Planning document for 70-square-mile San Tan Valley before supervisors Oct. 31

The proposed land-use plan for San Tan Valley. (Pinal County graphic)

San Tan Valley could encompass an area about the size of the town of Gilbert if a comprehensive planning document is approved by the Pinal County Board of Supervisors many say could be a watershed moment in the future development of the area.

A total of 70 square miles of land have been carved out on the northwest side of the county in the plan. It includes Germann Road to Arizona Farms Road and from the Central Arizona Project canal to Ellsworth Road following the county line into the Meridian Road alignment.

A 107-page county- and staff-initiated comprehensive plan amendment is the culmination of 18 to 24 months of work, Steve Abraham, community development official for Pinal County, said to the supervisors at a recent meeting.

“It’s a land plan, guiding document and refining of the current comprehensive plan for the San Tan Valley area,” he said.

“Why? Well, we figured out through the process that San Tan Valley has a number of unique needs and issues that have resulted as a part of the unprecedented growth and development that’s occurred there over the last 25 years,” Mr. Abraham said.

In the decade from 2000 to 2010, San Tan Valley grew from a rural area of 4,976 residents to an urban community of 86,665 people. It has further expanded to 102,539 people as of 2016, according to the planning document.

An examination of employment characteristics shows that of the 32,552 employed San Tan Valley residents, 98 percent commute to jobs outside of San Tan Valley. Of those, 80 percent are working in Maricopa County, according to the document.

One primary goal of the plan, which the board of supervisors asked for, was to develop a community-preference survey. Committees gathered information and public meetings were held, Mr. Abraham said.

“So, at its minimum, this is a survey and outreach to identify what is on the mind of the San Tan Valley residents and how can a really burgeoning city(‘s) … needs and issues be addressed from all aspects of development, open space, economic development, roads, transportation and infrastructure,” he said.

The county supervisors are to vote on the plan at a meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31. It is in the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room at 135 N. Pinal St. in Florence. Agendas will be posted at pinalcountyaz.gov/bos/Pages/AgendaMinutes.aspx.

Luisa Niu

San Tan Valley resident Luisa Niu said she recently became familiar with Pinal County’s plan to designate San Tan Valley.

“I am thrilled to see prospective growth for our community. Seventy square miles for the proposed plan is equivalent to the size of the town of Gilbert,” she said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Gilbert’s planning area encompasses 73 square miles, according to gilbertaz.gov.

“With a great amount of square miles for the proposed incorporation holds great potential for San Tan Valley, as we know from the growth and success from Gilbert. As a citizen in the unincorporated San Tan Valley and as a millennial, I find great hope for my town, friends, family and myself,” Ns. Niu said.

San Tan Valley resident Rebecca Anne Thuer said the plan fails to adequately address the residential growth in the area and the necessary commercial infrastructure to support the growth.

“It is great that (the) county wants to put in county offices, however what the area needs is commercial infrastructure – stores, gas stations, etc.,” she said in an e-mailed response to questions.

“Where are the residents going to shop? Where are they going to work? Unfortunately the majority of the land was already rezoned as residential during the last housing boom, which leaves little or no land left for any commercial support of the 100,000 residents. The plan is also lacking in public safety, such as fire and police,” she said.

Ms. Niu also said she wished more land was set aside for commercial businesses.

“I know the town of Queen Creek has annexed parts of San Tan Valley and consequently for San Tan Valley, less revenue,” she said.

“One day I hope for my future and many of my fellow neighbors to live where we work. Bringing more businesses to our community will allow for personal growth and less time away from our families,” Ms. Niu said.

“On average we are traveling 30-45 minutes away from home for employment. Consequently, neglecting our family time,” she said.

“I believe if we live and work within reasonable driving distances will strengthen the bonds of families. Resulting in stronger education, less crime, and safer communities. Thus creating a stronger generation and a stronger community,” Ms. Niu said.

When the Pinal County supervisors discussed the San Tan Valley comprehensive plan at a recent special meeting some said it lacks an employment corridor but would benefit from businesses along the proposed State Route 24 freeway to the north.

SR 24 presently heads east from the Loop 202 San Tan Freeway and ends at Ellsworth Road between Williams Field and Pecos roads. It is proposed to extend east to a north-south freeway that would go from Apache Junction south to Picacho.

“One of the things to me that is a little bit shocking is that it doesn’t seem to address employment. Employment as far as a job, a living-wage job in the area,” Supervisor Stephen Miller said of the San Tan Valley plan at the special meeting.

“You address the issue … about the migration, of everybody leaving the area to go work someplace else, but there’s little input here as to how or why we would not want employment in the area to keep these people from leaving,” he said.

“I just had anticipated something more to the stopping of the migration of people leaving. We discuss it all of the time. We want to figure out ways to keep people from leaving our county and going to work at another county. We want them to stay here, work here and if they’re working here, they are not going to drive to go spend their dollars in another county,” Supervisor Miller said.

Along the railroad would be a good employment area in San Tan Valley, he said.

“I agree with Supervisor Miller. We need to get some employment-type activity centers, planning,” Supervisor Pete Rios said at the special meeting.

“I’m glad we, as the county, are taking a look at and trying to help San Tan Valley with an area plan because they desperately need one,” he said.

Businesses along State Route 24 are needed, Supervisor Mike Goodman said.

“We ought to be focusing on that area and making sure that’s probably some strong employment centers. Working with the state, the transportation issue is going to be done by 2021 on the (SR) 24 there,” he said.

“I agree with Supervisor Goodman about the employment corridors on Highway 24 because that’s coming,” BOS Chairman Todd House said at the special meeting.

“That’s something we need to really look at sooner than later and work with Queen Creek and the neighboring cities and county to make sure that they understand we want to try to make that an employment area that matches what’s currently in some of the area there but we want to continue that. I love the idea that they’d only have to commute about three miles to work and stay right here in Pinal County,” Supervisor House said.

“I’m glad that we were able to get this done for San Tan Valley because it is a very important and essential portion of Pinal County and I hope in the future it can be very useful if San Tan decides to incorporate in their future plans,” he said of the plan.

Supervisor Anthony Smith mentioned the proximity of the proposed north-south freeway to the San Tan Valley area and asked why it wasn’t included in the plan.

“The voters approved the (regional transportation authority) and it seemed like that would be where you could get some additional employment and transportation considerations,” Supervisor Smith said of a tax that was approved by voters in November.

The north-south freeway route has not yet been determined by the Arizona Department of Transportation, Mr. Abraham said.

“One of the challenges with that north-south freeway is that it’s a corridor at this point and in terms of how far away from the boundary study area, we don’t know how far away it is from there because there are a couple natural boundaries that would affect freeway placement on that whole eastern boundary,” he said.

The San Tan Valley area doesn’t have freeway access and is basically one way in and one way out, Mr. Abraham said.

“In terms of planning transportation, it’s basically a giant cul-de-sac at this point in terms of transportation in and out,” he said.

Ms. Thuer and Ms. Niu said something must be done about roads and congested traffic in San Tan Valley.

“Roads and access are severely lacking. Traffic in and out of STV is horrible,” Ms. Thuer said.

“If it were not for surrounding areas such as Queen Creek and Mesa who have stepped up with road improvements due to the increased traffic from the STV residents, traffic would be unbearable,” she said.

“I am happy to see plans of future roads, but how long will that take? Citizens of San Tan Valley and Queen Creek have suffered through years of poor roadways and congested traffic because of unprecedented amount of population growth,” Ms. Niu said.

“If businesses start residing in San Tan Valley and the residents of San Tan Valley are employed therein, in theory there will be less traffic. The only means in our area for transportation is the car because our community is spread out and not ideal for walking. In the proposed plan I see there are thoughts of a busing system to lead into Apache Junction. This is great for citizens who do not have access to vehicles,” she said.

The express route that includes Apache Junction would provide three to four northbound trips in the morning and three to four southbound trips in the afternoon or evening, according to the plan.

Public utilities are also a concern, Ms. Thuer said.

“On top of everything else, there is the issue with the water supply – Johnson Utilities issues – and sewer services, also JU,” she said.

“The county and the BOS needs to make the water and sewer infrastructure their primary concern right now because without water and sewer there is no more STV growth,” Ms. Thuer said.

Editor Richard Dyer can be contacted via e-mail at rdyer@newszap.com or at twitter.com/rhdyer or facebook.com/RichardDyerJournalist

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