“Flexibility” needed to create employment centers
By Dana Trumbull
San Tan Valley residents have been twice thwarted in their efforts to bring the option of incorporation to a vote; however, they now have a participative comprehensive plan to help guide future growth.
On October 31, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors, in regular session adopted the San Tan Valley Special Area Plan – a major amendment to the 2009 Pinal County Comprehensive Plan. The document designates specific land use categories, goals and policies pertaining to future development. It will serve as a primary policy guide for Pinal County staff, including the Planning and Zoning Commission, as the community of more than 100,000 residents strives to establish a more well-rounded and sustainable identity.
“If and when San Tan Valley decides to incorporate into a city, [the Special Area Plan] will give them some guidelines as to how to move forward with their planning,” stated District 5 Supervisor Todd House, whose constituency includes the northern portion of San Tan Valley.
Consultant Matt Klyszeiko, community planning practice lead for Michael Baker International, commented on the high level of public involvement throughout the planning effort. “We had four community open house meetings with over 600 participants. We also had technical advisory teams focused on various aspects of the planning process: Overall, Transportation & Infrastructure and Business & Economic Development. We also had a Health Impact Assessment committee that focused on how we can increase physical activity within the region.”
Faced with large swaths of State Trust Land and existing land entitlements for future housing subdivisions, the community planners and committee members were challenged with finding ways to diversify land use, incorporating greatly needed employment centers, office and retail centers and a variety of housing types. “Because we have a lot of impacting factors, we needed to look at land use from a different lens,” said Klyszeiko. Rather than focusing on specific land use designations, the planners opted to assign various zones within the planning area with a desired character, knowing that many desired features could combine to define a neighborhood. The designated zones are: Rural Living, Suburban Neighborhood, Urban Transition, Community Center, Urban Center, Suburban Office and Employment Center. “Within the place types, you’re allowed different land uses, but they all contribute to the character of that specific type… The Urban Transition, Community Center and Urban Center areas identify the additional place types that offer alternative housing. Then, if we look at employment, it is not just limited to the Employment Center or Suburban Office character types, it also can be present in the Community Center and Urban Center place types – because when we talk about professional office-type uses, those are very appropriate within a commercial setting, but can also help create a more diverse environment in some of those other place types where it is near a residential environment.”
One of the primary topics addressed by the plan is that of local employment centers. Klyszeiko broke down the numbers, referencing the 36,488 units of residential housing currently in the community, 99.5% of which are single-family detached homes. “There are approximately 32,552 employed residents within the study area. The majority of those travel outside the study area for employment. There are approximately 2,200 jobs within the 70 square mile study area, which results in what is a common gage of employment within a community of .06 jobs to housing balance.”
Specific areas designated for employment include the south portion of San Tan Valley, along the rail line. Other employment areas considered include the planning area for the North/South Corridor, the State Route 24 freeway corridor and the Phoenix/Mesa Gateway Airport. All are outside the San Tan area, but are acknowledged as features that impact the viability of local employment centers.
“We worked with the Technical Advisory Committee members who represented the Chamber of Commerce and public agencies, as well as the Phoenix/Mesa Gateway Airport, the town of Queen Creek and so on, to account for some of those conditions that exist just outside of the study area. So, some of the understanding is that this is a plan that is going to have to be flexible moving forward.
“Once that North/South Corridor is solidified, that may have a larger impact on the land planning along the eastern boundary of the study area. In conversations with the State Land Department, that was recognized, but until that line is drawn, they did not see any need for employment in that area. Along SR24, there is a large amount of planned employment just north of Germaine Rd. Once that freeway comes in, that would be supporting or contributing to employment within the study area,” clarified Klyszeiko. “There was previously some land in this particular area that presented some employment opportunity, but then it was annexed into the town of QC and was removed from the study area.”
District 3 Supervisor Steve Miller commented, “I think that we [the Board of Supervisors], have to take a stronger stance and say to developers, ‘We need employment.’ And I’m talking about some type manufacturing where you’re earning a living wage.”
District 1 Supervisor Pete Rios agreed, pointing out, “We’re doing some things that’s helping the State Land Department enhance their holdings…That’s where I’m thinking that, if we use this as an opportunity… we can look at some of these areas where we’re lacking and we need more help from them as far as giving [leeway in the acceptable types of land use].”
Rios summarized: “This gives us a step in the right direction in trying to bring some rhyme and reason to that particular community that… just popped out of the desert in a decade or so with very little type of organization.”
Supervisors approved the Comprehensive Plan amendment, 5/0.
The San Tan Valley study area boundaries are defined as: the town of QC planning boundary to the north and northwest, the San Tan Regional Park to the west, the Gila River Indian Reservation to the south, the CAP canal to the east and the Superstition Vistas planning area to the north.