Town, neighborhood to try again - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Town, neighborhood to try again

Marana Estates first application of broader neighborhood approach

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Posted: Wednesday, December 2, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 1:29 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Phyllis Farenga wears her pride in Marana Estates on her shirt, and on her sleeve.

"We Love Our Barrio," reads Farenga's shirt on a warm fall afternoon at San Lucas Park, the expanse of green that stands in contrast to what may be Marana's oldest neighborhood.

Marana Estates is a fence line, and a world, away from the new homes of San Lucas. It's a tattered collection of more than two dozen homes remaining from "old" Marana, before the railroad moved nearby, and I-10 rolled through, before drought and floods.

"It's the community too tough to die," said Farenga, who works in the pest control business and has lived in Marana Estates for 30 years.

Farenga believes the new threats to Marana Estates have come from government and business. A truck repair company and other uses have brought heavier traffic into a circle where multiple generations are raising children.

"It's about blighting a neighborhood on purpose," Farenga insists, putting forward a mountain of paper to make her case. "It's incredible."

T VanHook, Marana's community development director, would object to such characterization. "We do care, and we have put a lot of time and effort" into improvements, VanHook said. "We're willing to come in and really work with the neighbors."

This Saturday, Dec. 5, people within Marana Estates are meeting with VanHook and other town officials to "see if there's a consensus" toward some sort of plan to make neighborhood improvements.

It's part of a new effort by the town, which in November added a neighborhood services component to its community development department, and identified Marana Estates as its test case.

Saturday won't be the first time town officials have met with people in Marana Estates. "It doesn't start just this year," VanHook said.

A series of meetings occurred in 2006, after Marana secured Pima County neighborhood reinvestment bond funds to make streetlight, sidewalk and street repair improvements in Marana Vistas, another older Marana neighborhood.

"We went to Marana Estates, and met with the neighbors to see if they wanted to do a grant application for a similar type of project," VanHook recalled. "The neighbors told us straightforward … that they did not want us to come in and fix up the streets, or put in sidewalks or put in streetlights." Marana Estates residents were happy with their quiet neighborhood, and " didn't want to draw attention," VanHook recalled.

Circumstances may have changed, VanHook said. "They might be interested in some services. We're going to move forward. There's an opportunity through expansion of this department into neighborhood services to see if the neighbors are interested in developing some sort of neighborhood strategy, some plan. We'd be happy to help them facilitate that."

Farenga's list of grievances was capped by the plan of Earhart Equipment to open an implement dealership next to housing. Rezoning for that project has been approved by the town council. She considers it one more intrusion of non-compatible business.

"We've been trying for 15 years to get attention," Farenga said. "Earhart was the straw."

Years ago, there was a greenhouse in the neighborhood, with tomatoes being raised, and a ceramics business. Today, there are plumbers, a modular building company, an electrician, a diesel repair company and a drilling company.

Two plumbers are "quiet, you don't know they're in there." A modular building company has a large quarters, but "they're fine." An electrician is quiet. "Anything but big trucks and pollution.

"We have to find low-impact, non-polluting uses, something that is compatible," Farenga said. "We're not opposed to business, we never were. We're opposed to polluting, high-impact, noisy business.

"We are practical people, we're logical, we see the situation" with regard to development, Farenga said. "But we have property values to protect."

"Remember, the businesses in the area are also neighbors, and are also part of that neighborhood," VanHook said.

Farenga has sought allies, and found some. She's insisting on greater activism, greater involvement, greater voter participation.

Alisha Meza is in agreement. She has children and three grandchildren in the neighborhood, and claims on several occasions children have been pulled out of the way of trucks. They want signs, indicating children at play, a bus stop, a speed limit, and perhaps speed bumps. Meza wants Marana to put in a different, separated but adjacent road for commercial access.

Farenga believes Marana should find the money to improve Marana Estates. "You have to invest in these communities," she said.

Marana has invested in Marana Estates, VanHook responds.

Since 2006, Marana has directed nearly $140,000 to rehabilitation and home improvement projects on 12 properties in Marana Estates, VanHook said. Work involved roofing, new heating and air conditioning systems, hot water heaters, "a whole variety of stuff" for low-income residents using Community Development Block Grant housing rehabilitation funds.

One challenge – money. "There are no longer dollars available through the neighborhood reinvestment program," VanHook said. "Those dollars are long since spent."

Beyond money, if there is a direction from the community, Marana may bring in people from other town departments, "depending on what the needs are," VanHook said.

A facilitator may be brought in. For experience, Flowing Wells community leader Ellie Towne has volunteered to participate with Marana Estates. "She's more than willing to come if they're willing."

Farenga acknowledges Marana Estates is diverse, and some of its residents may not want sidewalks, or streetlights, or other improvements. She thinks a clean-up would be endorsed.

"It needs to be all of the neighbors," VanHook said. "We need a consensus. It can't be one or two neighbors to drive a plan."

Farenga considers Marana Estates to be "a diamond in the rough.

"It reminds me of the old Italian neighborhoods, everyone knows each other," she said.

"The town of Marana is not the answer to all of their problems," VanHook said. "We're here as a partner to help them move forward."

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