Oro Valley is trying to move toward making Steam Pump Ranch a destination site in the town after a year and a half of ups and downs in the planning process.
According to town staff, councilmembers and an interested citizens committee, the realization of Steam Pump as a historic site and entertainment destination is back on its way, with concrete plans for the development surrounding the site expected by October.
Completion of the site has been deemed the "highest priority" project by the town in using county bond money approved by voters in May.
The Town Council granted the developer of Steam Pump Ranch another extension to prepare plans for building around the historic site, upon recommendation from town staff who said progress is being made and everyone involved would like to have solid plans before making a presentation to the council and Oro Valley residents.
Town Manager Chuck Sweet said the task now is to determine the exact line on a map where the preservation property should be, where buildings will lie on that property, where an entrance will be oriented and how surrounding property should be developed.
"As soon as we have a more definitive plan that we can sit down and discuss with council, then we will have more to talk about," he said.
Senior Planner Bayer Vella said, in a telephone interview, the town is in the process of having the historic core of Steam Pump Ranch appraised and that staff and the developer are "making progress" toward a plan that is acceptable to both sides.
"We are moving toward a consensus design," he said. It will be a design that includes destination uses for the land in a town square setting.
Vella said the staff has interviewed landscape architects to come on board with the project, with the idea in mind that the site will maintain "a ranch and rural character for the space." While the plans are preliminary, they include meandering paths, possible open space for something such as a farmer's market and shops and restaurants that Vella described as "places you go and intend to stay a while."
The town staff also has recommended no automotive uses be placed on the property, although Vella said it is unclear whether the developer still has such uses in the development plan.
In December 2003, developer Michael Naifeh and his business partners Eric and Shaloom Laytin, owners of Brake Masters, purchased six acres of 15 total acres of Steam Pump Ranch for $500,000. Naifeh was out of town as of press time and could not be reached for comment on the status of his plans.
The historic ranch portion of the total property is what the town is looking to acquire, the remaining ten acres is to be developed. The nature of the development is being negotiated.
What happens next is still to be determined. The town has several options by which to move toward making the historic core of Steam Pump Ranch the attraction it envisions.
As part of the negotiations with Naifeh, the developer and current owner of the historic site, the town is determining by what mechanism it can get that property.
Sweet said the main goal is to get the historic 4.5 acres, determined as the historic site, into public ownership. In order to receive the bond funding for the site, the historic core must be set aside for preservation.
Vella said there are several options, including paying cash to buy the land from Naifeh, using a rezoning dedication or arranging a possible land swap.
The town has been allotted $2 million by the county through the bond for the Steam Pump project.
"In the end, when all the dust is settled, the core will be public," Vella said.
Dick Eggerding, spokesman for The Land Conservation Committee, a grass roots committee created to address conservation of the town's open space and historic sites, has seen preliminary plans for the historic site preservation and development of the surrounding area and said in the eyes of the committee the project "has done a complete 180."
He said the rough renderings show the site as the "crown jewel" the committee always had in mind.
Eggerding said the next priority as far as the committee is concerned is gathering the historic documents and artifacts to fill the ranch house and make it a museum the public can enjoy.
At the July 21 council meeting, a letter was submitted by Richard Fe Tom, of The Architecture Company, requesting a continuance of the public hearing set to discuss a rezoning request that Steam Pump Ranch be changed from low density residential to a commercial district. The zoning must be changed to allow any development to occur on that site.
As part of rezoning, an applicant in Oro Valley must provide a site inventory and analysis, a land use proposal and a tentative development plan, so the town can learn the specific intentions of an applicant looking to develop land within the town.
In a letter sent to Town Manager Chuck Sweet at the end of June from County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry's office, conditions of receiving the bond funding for Steam Pump Ranch are outlined.
The letter states the area of preservation set aside by the town must be at least four acres, with no vehicular through-roads, new building pads or other encroachments. It also states that if the adjoining land is zoned commercial, there must be a 50 foot buffer zone established.
The letter goes on to state the county owns a 1.7 acre flood control district parcel in the area of Steam Pump it is willing to "convey" to the town, if the development conditions are met. The parcel has been shown in various development plans presented by the owner and developer of the Steam Pump property, although the county has not been approached about possible purchase of the parcel.
The preservation land the letter refers to is now owned by Naifeh, a real estate appraiser and consultant, and the remaining area known as the Steam Pump property is owner by John Lieber.
Steam Pump Ranch was built by George Pusch, who came to Oro Valley in the late 1800s, and established the area primarily as a stage stop for soldiers going back and forth from Fort Lowell. The property, located on what is now North Oracle Road, was later used as a stop for weary desert travelers and as a watering hole for cattle being brought between Tucson and Oracle or Florence.
The bond project aims to acquire the areas of the ranch, which include the remains of the pump house and the pad on which it sits the original 1890s ranch house and a later adobe house built by the Proctor family, which made its fortune in the hotel business, in the 1930s.
Naifeh has been working with town staff since before passage of the bond to come up with a development plan, changing the concept from a strip mall to a village square design and back to a strip mall.
In late April, the town denied a demolition application filed by Naifeh to remove the historic facilities from the site and essentially pave over the spot where they stand.
After almost two years of quibbling back and forth, at the July 21 council meeting, Community Development Director Brent Sinclair said he thought the town staff and developer are now "making good progress" toward a development plan for Steam Pump Ranch.
The goal is to have tentative plans in front of the council by mid-August so that it has seen them before the public hearing scheduled for Oct. 7.
"We are working with the applicant and want to bring something back to council that will be acceptable," he said. "The goal is to buy that core and the facilities on it with the bond money."
Mayor Paul Loomis said the main task before the council at this point is to preserve the four to five acres that has been identified as the historic core and then "develop something around it that is community oriented."
He said in order for the plan to get his yes vote, the historic buildings coupled with existing trails and access to the Cañada del Oro Wash should create an environment that has "a less intense use and local flavor retail."
Loomis said he is not sure the new council has had time to talk about the Steam Pump project, however, it will continue to move forward in a relatively short period of time because Naifeh wants to start developing the site and the first phase of money from the county is now available.
Councilmember Conny Culver has been working closely with the Steam Pump project and said she thinks the town is "finally moving forward." She agreed the historic preservation and surrounding development will be closely linked, and said she was glad to see people come onboard with that idea, including the developers at Diamond Ventures, the company building the nearby Steam Pump Village, where high end shops including a Steinway Piano Gallery are planned.
"Frankly, I was getting pretty frustrated," Culver said in a telephone interview regarding the process of approving a Steam Pump plan. "It seemed stuck in the mud for a long time."
She said town staff, the developer, owner, county representatives and historic preservation specialists have been meeting to come up with a plan for the site suitable to everyone.
"I am cautiously optimistic we are all on the same page," she said, adding that by October plans may be finalized.
The town is embarking on five projects after passage of the county bond issue in May. Four of the projects are primarily land acquisition: Steam Pump and Kelly Ranch and Honeybee Village, which include elements of historic or prehistoric preservation and a parcel of land at the north of the Naranja Town Site, referred to as the Naranja extension, for use as a parks and recreation area. The fifth project is completion of the Oro Valley Library.
The library now is utilizing 15,000 of its 25,000 square feet, according to Sinclair, and the $1.1 million bond project will allow the town to complete the remaining 10,000 square feet, currently a "shell," Sinclair said.
Town staff plans to present final plans for completing the project to the town council Oct. 9. The plans include moving the children's area to a bigger space with areas for tutoring, puppet shows and additional books and computers and creating a Teen Zone, set aside specifically for teenagers to do homework and access books and other media.
"It will be one of a kind for its type," Sinclair said of plans for the library. "It will wow you."
Sinclair said the town has not received any funds yet for the projects from the county, however, he has been informed the money currently is available, and it is now a matter of the town being ready to move forward with the projects.
With the four acquisition projects, he said the town will first have the properties appraised and then begin negotiating with the property owners. All four parcels that are to be acquired are held currently by private owners.
The county will give the town money once the price has been set.
There is a fixed amount of money that may be spent for each project, however, if the town does not spend all of it, it does not get to keep it.
In the case of the library, once the project goes out to bid and is awarded, then the county will make the money available to the town.
A deadline for the end of this calendar year has been set by the county to spend the funds. Sinclair said he is confident the town will be able to meet that deadline. There is no specific timeline for the projects, he said, and the Town Manager's office is in the process of having the properties appraised and contacting the owners to begin negotiations.