Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sorry for the Cheap Tires

I've come to accept that I may have made a slightly regrettable choice as a member of the Laveen Village Planning Committee, but I'd like a chance to defend that choice. It was to vote for a zoning change from C-1 to C-2 for Discount Tire at 51st Avenue and Baseline Road (SWC). The motion passed with a solid but not overwhelming majority and I took some flack for my vote in the affirmative. There were some unkind things said in the aftermath of this vote, which was our first contentious issue in a while, so I think it's important that we clear the air.

First, some basics. In order for the applicant to build a tire shop on the location, they needed to change the zoning designation -- I recommend reviewing the city zoning ordinance here for a more thorough understanding. Had the property remained designated as C-1, it would have been restricted to what we call "Neighborhood Retail". This means any number of business types, including thrift store, coin-op laundry, smoke shop, liquor store, or other such small and localized uses (and yes, plenty more benign ones too, but then I've already established my bias above). Basically, C-1 includes all of the things we think belong scattered throughout our neighborhoods. C-2, on the other hand, is called "Intermediate Commercial" and accounts for most other commercial uses one might imagine -- it usually connotes more business traffic from the neighborhood and beyond.

Here's the rationale for voting down the application, as I understood it. We know that Discount Tire wants in on all the lucrative tire business in Laveen, but we don't like the location. We expect more for the space in front of LA Fitness and we figure that if we say no, the tire shop will go elsewhere. This move will not only push the tire shop away to a less desirable location, but it will also hold that C-1 spot for something we want more, like a restaurant (or coin-op laundry).

My rationale in voting to approve the rezoning application was simply that I saw little need to block it from a community standpoint and I have a relatively high regard for Discount Tire, as compared to some of the non-local chains out there (not that we could ensure that Discount Tire is the end user, but the developer would be foolish to mislead us). Plus, there's no restauranteur planning to build in this location, so why are we saving a spot? The same shopping center already has (yet another) fast food restaurant planned..... and Denny's, last I heard, has completely walked away from this intersection. Any nicer sit-down options that would build out a pad site would be smarter to either move into the center at 35th Avenue and Baseline or wait for one of the power centers adjacent to the Loop 202 to be built and go there. Meanwhile, we had the opportunity to bring another amenity to Laveen and get some dirt moving -- this time with a developer that has always responded well to community feedback. I thought this was a very practical move.

So now I wonder what other people think about this. Would you have done differently than you planning committee? Did you want to see the LVPC take a unified stand against this rezoning application? Please keep in mind that there is no legal way that we could have colluded before the meeting to do so, but a group of concerned residents could have spoken out during the public comment period and asked at the time that we consider it. I think we did ok, but I'm open to feedback and urge those who are concerned to get more involved in both the LVPC and the LCRD.

I'll even take it one step further. If you are disturbed by the fact that we have another tire shop being built at this intersection, I will go so far as to personally demand an explanation from the developer, Terrazona, as to why the Discount Tire wasn't placed on Terrazona's property at 35th and Southern. If they were to move the location, we would have two there and one at 51st/Baseline rather than the opposite. But seriously, would you rather get your tires changed and hit the gym while you wait, or would you prefer to browse Office Max? I'd rather be on a treadmill or across the street at Scooptacular.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

South Mountain vs. Hassayampa: Ever Heard of Either Freeway?

I woke up this morning to find an email sent yesterday (Friday) evening from the Arizona Department of Transportation, regarding the state's "Long Term Transportation Plan Final Report". No biggie, right? Just a discussion about how we plan to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on critical infrastructure projects over the next 25 years. I'm not sure why they chose to send it on a Friday evening, but this Laveen geek couldn't imagine any better Saturday morning reading material. Others may not feel the same way, although I guess we'll see if there's a Sunday morning feature in the Republic tomorrow's Sunday edition, as there ought to be.

Enough about the timing of the report for now. Let's look at what it says. You can find the document here, or I suppose you can trust my brief analysis as follows. First, a few notable sections, as far as Laveen is concerned (you'll have to wait to read about the Hassayampa freeway):

Section 1: Executive Summary (page 1)
In case you don't regularly read professional reports for a living, I'd be remiss to skip over highlighting this section. It may very well include everything you want to know about the following hundred or so pages.

Sections 1.3-1.5: Long-Range Needs, Revenues, and Investment Levels; Gap Analysis (pages 3-9)
This section of the executive summary offers insights about funding constraints and strategic areas of interest for ADOT. For instance, $9.28 billion must stay within Maricopa and Pima counties (mostly Maricopa). The report then notes that tradeoffs are likely, given that we can only count on a small chunk of the funding required to implement all projects envisioned by bqAZ (Building a Quality Arizona) and ADOT's needs assessment.

Section 3.1.1: Goals and Objectives (page 28)
This is a big one. If we want to advocate smartly for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway, we need to do so in a way that considers these stated goals and objectives. Here's the list:
  1. Improve mobility and accessibility
  2. Preserve and maintain the system 
  3. Support economic growth 
  4. Link transportation and land use 
  5. Consider natural, cultural, and environmental resources 
  6. Enhance safety and security 
  7. Strengthen partnerships 
  8. Promote fiscal stewardship
We can address all of the above quite handily, in my opinion, for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway. Numbers 1, 3, 4, and 6 seem like the most obvious concerns that the SMF would address, although we can make an argument for all four of the others as well.

Table 3-1: Performance Measures by Plan Goal Area (page 31)
This table helps to illustrate the metrics for the goals listed above, which also lowers the bar for fashioning a report advocating for one particular freeway, such as the SMF.

Section 4.2.3: Highway Needs for “New” Facilities (page 41)
This section outlines the various studies, reports, strategic plans, and other documents used to guide new infrastructure development. Looking for a specific project like the SMF? Keep digging....

Section 5.1.1: Highway Revenues (page 56)
I recommend skimming over the first section about our gas tax and vehicle registration fees and then on to page 58, to read up on the Prop 400 funds available only to Maricopa County transportation projects.  56.2% of these funds were earmarked for highway construction, such as the SMF.

Table 5-6: Baseline Revenue Forecast with Disbursements (page 65)
From what I see here, it looks like MAG has the money it needs for the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway; ADOT has plenty of discretionary funds; and I'm almost certain that some of those federal funds are set aside for the SMF. Do we have enough money yet?

5.3.2: Generating Revenues from Existing Sources (page 68)
In simple terms, this is how government agencies go about making the pie bigger, so that projects like ours don't take as big a piece of the pie. I suppose that the following subsections could be described as adding new flavors to a bigger pie. Interesting stuff.

Section 6. Investment Alternatives and Outcomes (page 71)
I recommend reading through as much of this section as you can stand, as it outlines different strategies for prioritizing ADOT's investment choices. Skip ahead to page 76 for the "Recommended Investment Choice". Most notably, the RIC would significantly reduce the share of funds going to highway expansion, as compared with both of the alternate plans.

Section 7.1: Benefits of Implementation (page 86)
Just thought you'd appreciate the following quote: "In terms of immediate impacts, it is estimated that a billion dollars of transportation infrastructure investment will create over 30,000 new jobs." This is why we need to stay on top of MAG and our city representatives to advocate on behalf of the SMF. We're not just looking for easier travel to shopping and work destinations, but we're looking at an opportunity to bring a huge economic impact to our city and region as a whole. Please also note that this section of the report makes no mention of infrastructure having a direct impact on targeted growth, as the SMF will provide. Therefore, I predict that the SMF will produce a much greater than average economic impact per mile.

Appendix A: Examples of Significant Transportation Infrastructure Projects (page 95)

Here's where the zinger comes in. Not only is this the first and only specific mention of the South Mountain Freeway I found, but what is that other freeway that appears slightly higher on the list..... The Hassayampa Freeway (see, you knew it was going to come up eventually)..... a.k.a. Interstate 11, a.k.a. Canamex Corridor. As I've written in the past, the improvements that follow the otherwise now mostly forgotten Canamex route are a good thing in that they provide a regional bypass for which the Loop 202 is not intended to serve. However, one must also consider that this project will compete for MAG funding, federal funding, and a reminder of what constitutes "smart growth" for the metro Phoenix area. A project like the Hassayampa Freeway will be of much greater interest to large scale land developers than something like the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway, which is more of an infill project, but probably not as interesting to most existing Valley residents. More to come on this one later, but the important message is that you should be concerned.... be very concerned.