Dec. 1, 2004 - Marana may begin holding developers and builders to stricter guidelines when constructing housing subdivisions within the town.
After noticing dull, monotonous developments throughout the Tucson area, the Town Council became the driving force behind the creation of new residential design standards to prevent the appearance of such subdivisions within Marana.
Earlier this year, design standards were created that limited the number of two story homes in a subdivision to less than 50 percent, required color and model variation among houses, and called for staggering the distance homes are set back from neighborhood streets.
With Marana continuing to experience explosive growth, council members at a Sept. 24 retreat called on the planning department to expand the standards, said Deputy Planning Director Kevin Kish.
A draft of the new standards was created and Planning Director Barbara Berlin met with developers and builders behind closed doors Nov. 18 in the second of two meetings to discuss the draft and address any concerns they might have.
The current draft of standards includes incorporating a variety of lot sizes into the community, creating connective open space between houses, and reducing the appearance of garage doors along the streets of the neighborhood.
The standards would only apply to subdivisions with lot sizes smaller than 12,000 square feet because developments with larger lot sizes do not usually have the same repetitious appearance as production developments, Berlin said.
She said ideas for the new standards were drawn from other Arizona cities and from a variety of studies. Berlin emphasized that the residential design standards are in the preliminary draft process, and might be subject to change. She was reluctant to release a copy of the standards, saying they would not likely be ready for public review until the end of the year, however the Northwest EXPLORER obtained a copy of the draft through a public records request.
The standards would first be subject to approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission before being submitted to the council. The soonest the commission will review standards is some time in January, Berlin said, at which point the standards would be made available for public scrutiny.
The two meetings between industry and town officials were closed to the public because Marana wanted to provide an environment where builders and developers would be uninhibited in expressing concerns, Berlin said.
"It's an invitation to the builders to have input on the draft before it's distributed to the council," Berlin said before the meeting.
After the meeting, Berlin did not specifically mention any concerns developers at the meeting had. She said only that the standards would be established by the guidelines set forth by the town and with input from developers and builders.
The Southern Arizona Home Builder's Association has also requested to review the standards before they are submitted to the council for approval, Berlin said.
Alex Jácome, the government liaison for SAHBA, said Marana and the development community share the same goals, which generally benefit the town's residents. He said the motivation behind the standards is to create a "pleasant environment" in Marana communities, which benefits the town and its residents, and helps developers sell houses.
"We're both motivated in the direction," Jácome said of Marana's design standards.
Vice Mayor Herb Kai said when council members noticed a KB Homes subdivision on River Road, just west of Oracle, with tightly packed, two-story, rectangular houses, they realized they should take steps to prevent such production developments within the town.
Councilman Tim Escobedo said some inspiration for the town's residential design standards came from within Marana. He said when traveling along Interstate 10, a person looking at Continental Ranch would notice a "sea of rooftops." The design standards would create a neighborhood with a less repetitious appearance, Escobedo said.
Kai acknowledged that input from developers and builders is critical to the process because the town on its own might create standards that would stretch the pocketbooks of the industry and the consumer.
"We were trying to come up with some guidelines that weren't cost prohibitive," Kai said.
Jácome did say builders want to see as few regulations as possible, because those regulations tend to drive up the cost of housing. He said the purpose of the Nov. 18 meeting was to go over the "nuts and bolts" of the design standards and ensure they are economically feasible for developers.
One of Marana's proposed design standards is to include garage access along alleys rather than main streets, which would de-emphasize the appearance of garage doors. Jácome said a concern builders might have with that is creating access to those alleys when designing subdivisions. Every added design element costs the developer more money, which in turn raises the cost of housing, Jácome said.
Paula Meade, the director of planning and entitlement for Pulte Homes, attended the two meetings and said that in both meetings, many of the same concerns emerged. Still, she said Pulte Homes is not opposed to Marana's efforts.
"It's just that Marana wants a nice looking community and I applaud them for that," Meade said.
She added that developers have been encouraged by Marana's willingness to accept their input when creating the residential design standards, and so long as Marana is willing to work with developers' concerns, the industry should not have a problem adhering to the guidelines. She said the meetings between Marana and developers have mainly consisted of "defining and redefining" certain aspects of the town's guidelines.
She said developers had a concern with the guideline that called for varying the lot sizes within a housing subdivision, because developers generally like to use a standard lot size when designing a development.
Also, an alternative to designing communities with garage access along alleys would be to design them with garage entry along the side of the house. Meade said some developers had concerns with including this design element in their subdivisions.
However, she added that the design standards are still "rough," and that Marana has sought input from developers at a very early stage in their creation. Also, it has not come across that Marana is trying to "force" developers to adhere to the guidelines, Meade said.
"I really think we can all work together on this," Meade said. "A lot of things they are suggesting make total sense, and are already being done in other communities."
Like Jácome, Meade said increased guidelines on development have an effect on home prices.
"Anything you do architecturally could tend to drive up housing costs," Meade said.
Kai said the town considered the effect the design standards would have on the price homes but added, "The important thing is the quality of affordable housing."
Escobedo agreed with Kai that people who seek affordable homes should not have to live in tract housing. He said developing neighborhoods with connective open space and pedestrian friendly walkways would increase the sense of community within Marana.
On the other hand, Jácome said it can be difficult for builders and developers to balance a house's attractiveness and affordability.
"It's difficult because as the price comes down on a home the amenities drop one by one," Jácome said. Market forces primarily dictate the appearance of subdivisions, he said. In order to create affordable houses, developers will use a simpler design. To further reduce costs, developers are pressured to fit as many lots as they can on a particular property.
"A $75,000 home doesn't look like a $200,000 home," Jácome said.
With respect to Marana's efforts, "the market will dictate whether this will be a viable option or not," Jácome said.
Still, Jácome said the industry's main goal is to create an attractive product that will benefit the homeowner and the town, and still allow the builder and developer to make a profit.
Berlin said the Marana council decided the market should not be the only factor that determines the appearance of a neighborhood. She said when developers build a community with smaller lot sizes, they view the homes on that property as products to be sold. The Marana council decided the design standards would be a way to turn that product into a community, Berlin said.
"What a community wants is not a product off a shelf," Berlin said. "They want a neighborhood."
SAMPLES OF PROPOSED DESIGN STANDARD CHANGES
Marana's existing residential design standards include:
- No more than 50 percent two-story homes within a subdivision and no more than two consecutive two-story homes adjacent to one another
- Vary color and model design in adjacent houses within a subdivision
Marana's proposed design standards draft includes:
- Varying distance between the front of homes and the street to allow for larger rear yards
- Designing homes with greater emphasis on the front door rather than the garage through use of alleys and side-entry garages
- Creating connective open space between homes throughout the community
- Emphasizing appearance of tree-lined streets within the subdivision and landscaped site edges at points of public access to the development
- Including pedestrian friendly communities by connecting local streets and walkways to existing arterial roads
- Increasing focus on common recreation areas within the development
- Vary rooflines to provide visual interest
- Provide several lot sizes and dimensions with larger wider lots on corners and smaller lots located along parks and open space
- Create a street design that promotes traffic calming to deter non-local traffic and increase bicycle and pedestrian safety