By Dave Perry
The Oro Valley Town Council has denied a request to develop a self-storage building and related recreational vehicle storage business in Mercado del Rio, a long-graded commercial development just north of Pusch View Lane and west of Oracle Road.
On April 19, the council voted 5-2 against a conditional use permit for the self-storage building. Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett and Mayor Joe Winfield moved and seconded for the denial, respectively, joined in the final vote by Councilmembers Joyce Jones-Ivey, Tim Bohen and Josh Nicolson. Councilmembers Dr. Harry “Mo” Greene II and Steve Solomon voted in favor of the proposal.
The applicant, South Carolina-based Johnson Development Associates, requested permissions to build a 101,200-square-foot, 30-foot tall, two-story self-storage building with 887 storage units and approximately 900 square feet of office space. Immediately south of that building, the applicant proposed a fully screened location to store up to 52 recreational vehicles. Existing zoning allows self-storage with a council-approved conditional use permit. Vehicle storage is an already-permitted use.
Barrett’s motion to deny was “based on the finding it’s incompatible with surrounding properties, and it is not consistent with the goals and policies of the general plan.” She argued the self-storage use would “diminish” intended retail, restaurant and office opportunities in the center, that self-storage does not generate jobs, and that Oro Valley has seen a wave of self-storage requests for its ever-smaller supply of land suitable for development.
Earlier this year, the town council approved a self-storage project north of Tangerine Road on the west side of La Cañada just south of Leman Academy of Excellence Oro Valley. Previously, it approved, and the developer has constructed, an Extra Space Storage business at Oracle and Calle Concordia. Plus, Oro Valley’s original Extra Space Storage wants to expand its footprint and add more self-storage capacity on the east side of Oracle Road.
“There is a demand for this type of use,” said Paul Oland of Paradigm Land Design, representing the applicant. “It turns out Oro Valley residents have an abundance of stuff that doesn’t fit in their garages. Your residents are demanding more self-storage in Oro Valley.”
“I don’t doubt there’s demand for self-storage,” Barrett said. “We’ve seen that. I just question that that’s the best use for Oro Valley. I don’t think that we’re in a race to meet build-out by filling every available square footage with the most readily available item.”
A master development plan for Mercado del Rio was approved in 2004, with intended uses to include retail, restaurant and/or office uses. Construction took place in 2007.
Since then, 40% of the graded ground has been developed. Caliber Collision — which received approval April 19 to expand parking of damaged vehicles behind a screen wall — Brake Masters, Oro Valley Adult Medicine, and Imagen Day Spa occupy five of 14 total lots in Mercado del Rio, which is immediately southwest of the shopping center anchored by Target.
Paul Loomis, the retired three-term mayor of Oro Valley, lives west of the property. He served on council when Mercado del Rio was approved “as a high-quality office, services and shopping center.” A 100,000-square-foot self-storage building is “not compatible with the surrounding uses, not even reasonably,” he told the council.
“It doesn’t fit, nor will this building fit into a future Mercado del Rio,” Loomis continued. “It will change future development” of the center, and, citing its flurry of self-storage activity, Oro Valley is becoming “the self-storage community of the Northwest,” he concluded.
Former Mercado del Rio co-owner Paula Donley spoke in favor of the proposal. “It’s unfortunate that project has sat mostly vacant for so long,” Donley said. “I welcome somebody coming in who would have pride of ownershi…I’m in support of it, and hope you’ll support it, too.”
Mercado del Rio is “a tumbleweed farm, we all know it,” Solomon said. “Let’s come 20 years later to reality. There is no high-volume, high-end retail center that’s going to buy and move into that property. The original use is no longer desirable, for many factors. We now have a proposal…to finally turn this into a use for our residents.”
The proposal went through modifications after two neighborhood meetings, and was given a conditional, favorable recommendation by the Planning and Zoning Commission on March 7.
“From the start, the biggest change has to do with access,” Oland said. “We really needed to beef up the screening around the RV storage, as well as along the back” of the property next to the Chuck Huckelberry Loop.
In response to town staff and neighbor requests, one access point was moved, a second was aligned between the RV and self-storage facilities, a wider, landscaped buffer yard was incorporated, and the RV screening wall was raised. Customers would have no direct access to either facility from Pusch View Lane. Oland said the self-storage use was a good transitional project from the auto-related businesses on the east side of Mercado del Rio, and the less-intensive medical office and spa uses on the west side.
“We heard the concern about visibility and privacy, and we responded,” Oland said. “I’m confident we meet all the criteria” for a conditional use permit, “without any question.”
“If it’s not approved, it’ll sit vacant,” Solomon said.
“This (property) has had that chance” for intended development, Oland said. “Restaurants, offices, retail have had a chance to be developed there for many, many years, and they haven’t, they haven’t…This site is perfect for this use, and it’s had two decades to be developed as something we can all admit might be cuter. It’s now sitting, completely unproductive, both to the town from a revenue standpoint, and to the residents from a services standpoint.”
“I think our general plan doesn’t support turning all those areas into self-storage,” Barrett responded, and the council majority agreed.
Dave Perry is a contributor to Tucson Local Media.