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  AGENDA ITEM: 3.       
Meeting Date: 02/04/2020  
Requested by: Bayer Vella
Case Number: 1901527

SUBJECT:
DISCUSSION AND POSSIBLE ACTION REGARDING A RANCHO VISTOSO PAD TEXT AMENDMENT AND CONCEPTUAL LANDSCAPE PLAN TO CONVERT A NATURAL OPEN SPACE AREA INTO A CONSTRUCTED LANDSCAPED BUFFER YARD LOCATED AT THE NORTHWEST CORNER OF ORACLE ROAD AND RANCHO VISTOSO BOULEVARD AT THE RANCHO VISTOSO CENTER, 1901527. THE REQUEST INCLUDES TWO ITEMS.

A. PUBLIC HEARING: PAD TEXT AMENDMENT TO ALLOW GRADING AND LANDSCAPING FOR DRAINAGE IMPROVEMENTS IN A NATURAL OPEN SPACE AREA

B. CONCEPTUAL LANDSCAPE PLAN FOR THE OPEN SPACE AREA
RECOMMENDATION:
Item A
Staff recommends approval of the proposed Planned Area Development (PAD) Text Amendment request to convert a natural open space area into a landscaped buffer yard.

Item B
Staff recommends approval of the proposed Conceptual Landscape Plan subject to the conditions in Attachment 1.

Please note, Item A directly impacts Item B. If the Planning and Zoning Commission should choose to recommend denial of Item A, a recommendation of denial must also be provided for Item B.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:
The purpose of this request is to consider two items related to converting an area of natural open space to a constructed landscaped buffer yard located at the northwest corner of Oracle Road and Rancho Vistoso Boulevard, as shown on the map to the right. 

The Rancho Vistoso PAD currently requires a 100-foot natural open space area along the west side of Oracle Road. The two items include:
  1. An amendment to the text of the Rancho Vistoso PAD to convert an area of natural open space to a constructed landscaped buffer yard to accommodate drainage improvements (Attachment 2).
  2. A Conceptual Landscape Plan which involves grading a portion of the site, replanting the area, transplanting salvaged plants within the project area, and installation of drainage improvements (Attachment 3). 

The request involves changing a natural open space area to a constructed landscaped buffer yard. The proposal includes grading a portion of the site on the southern half of the project area for drainage improvements and landscaping. The northern portion of the open space area is proposed to be preserved in place but allow for transplanting salvaged plants, placement of irrigation lines, and removal of dead plant material and additional debris.

The applicant is seeking the change to address a lack of visibility from Oracle Road into the shopping center due to the existing slope and to address existing drainage issues. Over the years, the Rancho Vistoso Commercial Center has struggled with tenant turnover and the loss of a major grocery anchor. The center currently has vacant spaces and the applicant is proposing increased visibility into the shopping center through a landscaped buffer yard to bolster the vitality of the commercial area. The proposal would allow for a landscaped buffer yard similar to other commercial centers in Oro Valley and along Oracle Road. 

The two items were triggered by a violation when the property owner removed trees from the open space area to increase visibility into the shopping center. The applicant's proposal includes mitigation for the removed trees.

The existing open space area does not provide high quality habitat or environmental resource value and is disconnected from other open space areas. The 1987 requirement for a 100-foot undisturbed natural open space area is also more restrictive than what the Town's Zoning Code currently allows, as landscaping and grading for drainage improvements are permitted in buffer yards. 

The applicant's proposal for Item B includes a Conceptual Landscape Plan that utilizes low water use, native vegetation designed to improve visibility into the shopping center. Significant vegetation has been transplanted, mitigated, or preserved in place and the previously destroyed trees have been mitigated in accordance with the Zoning Code. 

Drainage improvements include enhanced grading to address ongoing issues in the parking lot, the addition of rock rip-rap to mitigate erosion, and water harvesting basins to capture rainwater and address erosion behind the Rancho Vistoso monument sign. 

One neighborhood meeting was held on August 21, 2019 for the proposal. Based on feedback received at the meeting (Attachment 4), a second neighborhood meeting was not needed as all questions and concerns had been addressed.


PAD Text Amendment requests are reviewed for conformance with the Your Voice, Our Future General Plan land use designation, goals and policies and Zoning Code. Conceptual landscape plans are reviewed for conformance with the Zoning Code. Staff finds that Items A and B conform to the General Plan and Zoning Code and staff recommends approval. 
 
BACKGROUND OR DETAILED INFORMATION:
The purpose of this request is to consider two items related to converting a natural open space area to a constructed landscaped buffer yard located at the northwest corner of Oracle Road and Rancho Vistoso Boulevard at the Rancho Vistoso Center commercial development.

Item A
Item A is a text amendment to the Rancho Vistoso PAD to allow for a required open space area to be converted into a constructed landscaped buffer yard and applies only to the property in question. The text amendment would allow for disturbance and re-vegetation to accommodate drainage improvements and address erosion issues while permitting ongoing maintenance for vegetation health.

Item B
Item B is a conceptual landscape plan which entails grading a portion of the site for drainage improvements and water harvesting, replanting the area in a way that improves visibility into the shopping center, and transplanting salvaged plants to prominent locations within the buffer yard.

Conditions of approval, only associated with Item B, are included in Attachment 1 that address minor outstanding issues on the Native Plant Salvage and Conceptual Landscape Plans. This includes specifying the location and treatment of a small number of remaining plants, meeting the minimum separation distance between transplanted mesquite and palo verde trees, and ensuring the wall to screen vehicle headlights onto Oracle Road is the proper height. 

The existing natural open space area was previously disturbed for the installation of utilities in a 30-foot utility easement and much of the existing vegetation is in decline. Furthermore, the area is disconnected from other open space and does not have high habitat or environmental resource value as it is a small portion of land surrounded by roads and development. No significant plant species, such as saguaros or ironwood trees exist on the site. Due to these factors, the area does not serve as a prime example of undisturbed natural open space. Moreover, the existing Oro Valley Zoning Code allows more flexibility for buffer yards than what the Rancho Vistoso PAD required when it was established in 1987.

Lastly, the property owner was formally cited with a violation for removing a number of trees. The commercial center has struggled over the years with tenant turnover and loosing a major grocery anchor. The applicant's two requests seek to address the outstanding violation while incorporating re-vegetation of disturbed areas and a refresh of the buffer yard. The design also includes drainage and landscaping improvements to increase visibility into the shopping center to support the vitality of the existing businesses and attract new tenants to fill existing vacant spaces. 

A. EXISTING CONDITIONS AND CONTEXT

Zoning Context 
The existing zoning for the property and the surrounding areas are shown on the map to the right. The subject property is currently designated as Open Space in Rancho Vistoso Neighborhood 2. Nearby zoning designations include Community Commercial, and Campus Park Industrial.


Site Conditions
  • 1.63 acres
  • Property is vacant
Property History
  • June 1987: Rancho Vistoso Planned Area           Development established, Open Space Zoning designation
  • February 2017: Property owner formally cited for a violation after removing trees in the open space buffer yard 
Rancho Vistoso PAD Neighborhood 2 
"There shall be a 100-foot natural area setback from the planned right-of-way line of Oracle Road. The Rancho Vistoso Plan shows a 100 foot natural setback from the right of way line of Oracle Road, thus preserving the natural feeling and views along this scenic corridor".

B. APPLICANT'S REQUEST

The applicant's request includes two items detailed below.

Item A
A PAD text Amendment to the text of the Rancho Vistoso PAD to allow for the required natural open space setback from Oracle Road to be converted into a constructed landscaped buffer yard and would apply only to the property in question as part of this request. The request would allow for disturbance necessary to address existing drainage and erosion issues and allow for landscaping and re-vegetation in a manner typical of commercial shopping centers on Oracle Road. Furthermore, the disturbance allowance would provide for ongoing maintenance for health and viability of plants.

As previously mentioned, the open space area has been previously disturbed and a number of plants are in decline. The area is not indicative of prime habitat or a critical environmental resource and includes no significant native plant species, such as saguaros or ironwood trees. The proposed changes would permit clearance of dead plant material and weeds, native plant salvage in conformance with the Zoning Code, and re-vegetation of the area with healthy native plants. This parcel is also disconnected from other open space areas by existing roads and development and does not provide connectivity to other open space areas. .

Additionally, the current requirement for the 100-foot natural open space setback per the Rancho Vistoso PAD is more restrictive than what the Town's Zoning Code currently requires, including the Oracle Road Scenic Corridor Overlay District (ORSCOD) requirements. The Town's Zoning Code permits disturbance and landscaping within buffer yards for drainage improvements. 

Item B
A Conceptual Landscape Plan for the existing open space area along the Oracle Road right of way. The applicant has provided a Conceptual Landscape Plan and native plant inventory and mitigation plan (Attachment 3). The proposed landscape plan utilizes low water use, native vegetation in accordance with the Zoning Code. The landscape plan incorporates drainage and erosion improvements through the use of rock rip-rap and two new water harvesting basins. The proposed landscaping provides improved visibility into the shopping center while grouping trees to mimic a natural landscape to provide a vegetated buffer between Oracle Road and the shopping center.

The Conceptual Landscape Plan proposes grading a portion of the open space area on the southern half f the site to allow for two water harvesting basins. This area will be completely re-vegetated. Additional trees will be removed or transplanted outside the grading limits as part of the landscape plan on the southern half of the project. The northern portion of the project area will not be graded and all plants will be preserved in place. The existing berm will remain in place and salvaged plants will be transplanted to this area. Minor intrusion in this area is proposed for the placement of irrigation and clearing out dead plant material and additional debris. 

Ground cover for the entire site includes native shrub and accent plants, decorative screen rock, and hydroseeding. There is a previously disturbed and graded 30-foot wide utility easement on the western portion of the buffer yard which the applicant is proposing to re-vegetate.

The applicant has inventoried all native plants in accordance with the Zoning Code, including significant vegetation and Corridor Character Vegetation (CCV) as part of the Oracle Road Scenic Corridor Overlay District. Viable significant vegetation and CCV in the proposed graded area will be salvaged and transplanted to prominent locations within the buffer yard or preserved in place. The landscape design is removing two viable CCV trees to allow for easement access and drainage improvements.

The trees that were previously removed have been classified as significant vegetation by the applicant and mitigated for at a 2:1 ratio. Salvaged plants will be transplanted directly on-site with no anticipated need for a temporary nursery. However, one is identified on the landscape plans if the need for one arises.

The area of proposed grading for water harvesting basins is approximately 0.37 acres. The applicant is proposing minimally impacting the entire site for transplanting salvaged vegetation, ground cover treatments, irrigation, and clearing out dead plant material and additional debris.  

C. GENERAL PLAN CONFORMANCE ANALYSIS

PAD text amendment applications are reviewed for conformance with the Your Voice, Our Future General Plan Vision, Guiding Principles, Goals and Policies. On balance, staff finds that the proposed PAD Amendment conforms to the General Plan specifically regarding:

Item A
  • Protection from stormwater impacts
  • View preservation and conserving natural resources and native vegetation
  • Supporting the viability of local businesses and the local economy 
Below is a more detailed General Plan analysis:

The General Plan Vision
"Oro Valley strives to be a well-managed community that provides all residents with opportunities for quality living. Oro Valley will keep its friendly, small-town, neighborly character, while increasing services, employment and recreation. The Town's lifestyle continues to be defined by a strong sense of community, a high regard for public safety and an extraordinary natural environment and scenic views".

Staff finds that the proposed PAD Amendment is consistent with the Vision as it manages stormwater and respects the natural environment through the proposed landscape design while supporting the local economy.

Guiding Principles, Goals, and Policies

Item A and B

Policy SD.10 of the General Plan emphasizes protection of the public and environment from stormwater impacts. The text amendment would accommodate drainage improvements and address problems stemming from erosion, particularly behind the Rancho Vistoso monument sign. The request is consistent with this policy as the improvements will improve drainage at the shopping center by slowing the flow of stormwater and encouraging water infiltration, thus reducing impacts. 

Goal K and policy SD.6 of the General Plan emphasize the protection and restoration of lands with high scenic values and maintaining the visual character of the community. The area associated with this proposed PAD Amendment is a visible stretch of land along a major roadway. While the applicant's request allows some disturbance, the associated Conceptual Landscape Plan utilizes native, low water use plants and preserved in place, transplants, or mitigates for all viable significant and non-significant vegetation.

The proposal captures rainwater and enhances vegetative density at the northern portion of the site by transplanting salvaged plants in this area. As previously mentioned, this open space buffer yard is disconnected from other open space systems and has limited habitat and natural resource value. The proposal enhances the area and restores the area with native vegetation. The request is consistent with these goals and policies as it is sensitive to the natural environment and surrounding landscape while enhancing an area along a scenic corridor.

Policy SD.3 and Policy SD.4 emphasize conserving the Town's natural resources and protecting native vegetation. While this portion of open space does not have a high natural resource value compared to larger, more connected open space areas, the applicant is maintaining the open space designation of the area and transplanting or preserving in place a large number of viable native vegetation. The request is consistent with these policies as it protects native vegetation and maintains the buffer yard as open space and utilizes native vegetation in the landscape plan. 

Goal B and policy E.1 of the General plan emphasize a strong local economy and economic stability. The proposed improvements provide increased visibility into the shopping center which supports local businesses and the local economy while still maintaining the scenic view shed along Oracle Road. The request is consistent with these goals and policies by bolstering the economic vitality of the Rancho Vistoso Center. 

D. ZONING CODE CONFORMANCE ANALYSIS

Conceptual Landscape Plans are also reviewed for conformance with the requirements of the Zoning Code. A summary is provided below. 

Item A
Buffer Yards: The Zoning Code and ORSCOD requirements allow for drainage improvements and landscaping designed to provide visibility into commercial centers within buffer yards. This provides a balance between functionality and providing open space. The intent of the natural setback adopted in 1987 along Oracle Road was to maintain a buffer yard between Oracle Road and commercial development. The intent is still met by the proposed PAD Amendment and conforms to what is permitted by the Town's Zoning Code. 

Item B

Site Design: The request and Conceptual Landscape Plan are in conformance with the requirements specified in the Town Zoning Code and Rancho Vistoso PAD. 

The proposed landscape plan utilizes native, low water use plants while addressing existing drainage issues. Planting locations, ground cover, and native plant salvage and mitigation all conform to the requirements of the Town Zoning Code. The trees that were previously removed by the property owner are being mitigated at a 2:1 ratio as required by code.

Viable Corridor Character Vegetation (CCV) may not be removed within 100-feet of Oracle Road without Planning and Zoning Commission approval. As previously mentioned two viable CCV plants are proposed to be removed for easement access and drainage improvements. The applicant is transplanting all remaining viable CCV and significant vegetation to visible locations or preserving the vegetation in place. 

Lastly, the site design provides headlight screening onto Oracle Road as required by code through a combination of berms and a proposed screen wall between Oracle Road and the shopping center. Several minor conditions of approval are included in Attachment 1 to ensure the screen wall meets the required height and to address outstanding issues on the native plant inventory.

E. PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
The following notice has been provided:
  • Notification to all property owners within 600 feet
  • Notification to all interested parties who signed in at neighborhood meetings
  • Homeowners association mailing
  • Advertisement in The Daily Territorial 
  • Posting on property
  • Posting at Town Hall and on Town's Website
One neighborhood meeting for the request was held on August 21, 2019 with approximately 10 residents and tenants in attendance. The main topics discussed at this meeting included:
  • Mitigation of previously destroyed trees
    • The applicant explained that the trees would be mitigated for as required by code.
  • Type of landscaping and vegetation used and methods
    • The applicant discussed the type of low water use, native plants used for the landscape design and where they would be placed. 
  • Scope of the project
    • The applicant discussed the parameters and limits of the project. 
  • How the proposal would address drainage issues
    • The applicant discussed the proposed drainage improvements through grading, water harvesting basins, and the rock rip-rap at the southern portion of the site to mitigate erosion.
  • If the proposed vegetation would affect the integrity of the monument wall
    • The applicant explained the proposed vegetation would not structurally impact the monument wall. Rather, the improved erosion control would help limit future impacts.
A copy of the neighborhood meeting summary is provided as Attachment 4. Staff has not received any further comments from residents or neighbors.

E. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATION
In summary, the proposal conforms to the goals and policies of the General Plan and all applicable requirements of the Zoning Code. Staff recommends approval of both Item A and Item B subject to the conditions in Attachment 1.
FISCAL IMPACT:
N/A
SUGGESTED MOTION:
The Planning and Zoning Commission may wish to consider the following suggested motions:

Item A

I MOVE to RECOMMEND APPROVAL of Item A, the PAD Text Amendment, to permit construction of a landscaped buffer yard, based on the finding that the application is in conformance with the Your Voice, Our Future General Plan and Zoning Code.

OR

I MOVE to RECOMMEND DENIAL of Item A, the PAD Text Amendment, based on the finding that _______________________________________.

Item B

I MOVE to RECOMMEND APPROVAL of Item B, the Conceptual Landscape Plan, subject to the conditions in Attachment 1, based on the finding that the application is in conformance with all Zoning Code requirements.

OR

I MOVE to RECOMMEND DENIAL of Item B, the Conceptual Landscape Plan, based on the finding that _______________________________________.
Attachments
Attachment 1: Conditions of Approval
Attachment 2: Applicant Submittal, Site Analysis and Text Amendment
Attachment 3: Applicant Submittal, Conceptual Landscape Plan
Attachment 4: Neighborhood Meeting Summary


    

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