Queen Creek officials want residents’ input to update land use plan

Residents encouraged to attend community design workshop slated for Feb. 16

What do Queen Creek residents like and dislike about their neighborhood or life here in general? Why did they move here, and has their quality of life here lived up to their expectations?

These are some of the questions Chris Anaradian, the town’s development service director, said he is seeking answers to in order to help him, his staff and town officials update the community’s General Plan.

He hopes to hear what residents have to say in person on Feb. 16 during a community design workshop focused on updating the land use portion of the General Plan. The meeting is scheduled for 5-8 p.m. at Queen Creek Town Hall, 22350 S. Ellsworth Road.

The Queen Creek General Plan serves as the town’s road map to guide development, appropriately manage growth and effectively conserve natural resources, according to the town’s website: http://www.queencreek.org/departments/development-services/general-plan-update-2018. It identifies goals and policies, and integrates plans related to land use, growth area, transportation, parks, trails and open space, environmental planning, water resources and economic development.

State law requires communities to prepare and adopt a General Plan every 10 years with input from the community. The current General Plan was approved by voters in September 2008.

In May, town staff began the process of updating the General Plan to reflect the growth that has occurred since its previous adoption in 2008, according to the website.

The new plan should reflect the tremendous growth Queen Creek has experienced during the past decade.

According to a document on the www.queencreek.org/planQC website, the following changes have taken plan since 2008:

•Through adoption of the North and South Area specific plans, more than 1,200 acres of land designated for retail, mixed use and employment uses have been redesignated to permit development of single-family housing.

•Population projections for Queen Creek from the Maricopa Association of Governments in 2013 anticipated a 2030 population of 68,000 persons living in the town. Newly released forecasts by MAG and the state of Arizona have been revised upward to 83,000 persons by 2030 (an increase of 18 percent).

•More than 4,100 new housing units have been built in Queen Creek since 2008.

•Nearly 500,000 square feet of retail space have been built in Queen Creek since 2008 in the Town Center and in major shopping centers throughout the community.

•Employment projections for Queen Creek have been revised downward by MAG from 27,800 in 2040 to 20,600 (a decrease of 26 percent).

Why simplify

The update proposes to reduce the number of commercial areas from 18 to seven to make it easier to understand, Mr. Anaradian said during an interview. He said during the 1980s and ‘90s, town plans nationwide tended toward specialization, which often confused both the public and officials.

“Brett (Burningham, the town’s planning administrator) and I want the plan to say what it means and mean what it says. (We) have been in the zoning world for a decade and a half, two decades, and we don’t know what (the existing 18 areas) mean, what the (existing) designations are. I just want to know where’s the shopping and is it next to a neighborhood?” Mr. Anaradian said. “What we’re trying to do is have the plan communicate to the outside world and to ourselves what we want the town to be. I know how to say, ‘this is the middle of town, this is where we want the restaurants and the walkability to be. These are the neighborhoods where we want to have pharmacies and Fry’s and Safeway. This is where we want the jobs to be. This is where the big lot homes should be, and this is where we want suburban homes to be.’”

Another issue is that the town is running out of undeveloped land, Mr. Anaradian said.

“So having the plan reflect who we really are in the last couple opportunities we have in these last rezonings, I think it is super important to have everyone on the same page as we finish planning the town,” he said.

Workshop format

This month, the town is focusing its efforts on gathering input on land use. Citizens attending the Feb. 16 community workshop can provide information on how they want to see the town use land and what types of places they want to see in Queen Creek.

The three-hour workshop will begin with a 30-45 minute presentation about what changes to the land use plan are being proposed and why, Sarah Mertins, planner II for the town, said during an interview. The information will be presented by Plan-et Consulting and HDR Inc. engineering group, both of which are based in Phoenix.

Afterward, attendees will break into smaller groups for informal discussions about the directions in which they want to see the town move.

“It will be more discussion-based versus a list of defined questions,” Ms. Mertins said. “Really we just want to see what their thoughts and opinions are.”

Mr. Anaradian said the team hopes to create a casual atmosphere in which people will feel comfortable to speak freely.

“We get more feedback when we make it more informal. Some people don’t like to speak in public or maybe they just want to express their own personal story of living here,” he said.

A member of the consulting teams or town staff and a planning commissioner will guide the conversations at each breakout table and document the discussions. Afterward, a member of each group will share his or her group’s findings with the larger group, Ms. Mertins said.

Happy or dissatisfied?

Mr. Anaradian said specifics such as budgets, politics, schedules and education will not be on this agenda. Instead, he would like residents to share why they moved to Queen Creek, if the town lives up to their expectations and what they like about living here.

“It could be anything — schools, how big the home was, the church you go to, the location in the Valley,” he said. “We want to preserve and protect the high quality of life for residents here now and people who are coming here.”

He said the plan must incorporate the wants and desires of people who have lived in Queen Creek for 30 years as well as newcomers.

The conversations also will include a new law enforcement and public safety element that has been added as well as a section on the environment, Ms. Mertins said.

The town also wants to know what residents’ priorities are for its future development.

“I hope people will see the connections between the different elements,” Mr. Anaradian said. “If people say we like that the fire department can respond to our home in less than three minutes when someone has a heart attack, it takes roads to get them there. If somebody says I really like the trails and bike paths they might leave understanding they can’t get a 60-acre park at the same time we build 20 miles of new trails. We want to know what they would like us to build first. We can’t build everything at the same time. One thing affects the next and affects the next.”

Early comments

People can learn more about the General Plan and comment on the proposed changes on the town’s website at www.queencreek.org/planQC and www.planqc.com. As of Jan. 31, 129 comments had been submitted via the website, Ms. Mertins said.

The following comments are a sampling of the submissions, according to a report Ms. Mertins supplied to the Queen Creek Independent:

“Would like better priced (less expensive) housing for empty-nesters, please! Thanks!”

“Please complete the trail system (and even extend it). This is huge and will have such a positive impact on the community. I believe it will bring a very positive community image and serves all ages and life stages. It is a relatively low cost item with maximum beneficial returns. There is a lot of growth east of Rittenhouse with few public services or recreation or transportation options in the near future. A simple asphalt path brings the community together without huge costs on a growing community.”

“I do not think QC should add any more multi-family homes south of Ocotillo. San Tan Valley inundates our roads because their only way out of their communities are the QC roads. The cost of rent in San Tan Valley also allows families to rent a house for the same price as an apartment. I think the rental market in San Tan Valley should be considered before creating multi-family units in QC. As a resident I feel our roads are overcrowded and QC is quickly losing its small town feel, which is why many of us purchased a home here. QC should be careful about putting homes on lots smaller than 10,000 square feet. The traffic in the Villages and from the Villages should be a good example of what creates congestion. I think QC should consider building more (age) 55 communities.”

“With the widening and connection of Riggs to Combs, please consider all the horse owners and how their horses will be able to access the roads. Keeping QC horse friendly will help to keep its country feel.”

Important dates for major General Plan update

The following is a timeline of events associated with the town of Queen Creek’s major General Plan amendments for 2018. The next event is a community design workshop that will take place 5-8 p.m. Feb. 16 at Queen Creek Town Hall, 22350 S. Ellsworth Road.

All proposed major General Plan amendments undergo a 60-day public comment period. After a series of public meetings, the proposed amendments are presented at public hearings before the Queen Creek Planning and Zoning Commission and the Town Council.

By law, the town council votes to approve or deny the major General Plan amendment applications. A super-majority vote of the council, that is, five votes, is required to approve a major amendment to the General Plan.

•February 2017: Land use education and input.

•Feb. 16: Community design workshop, 5-8 p.m. at Queen Creek Town Hall.

•March: Draft plan created.

•March 1: Pre-application submittal due.

•April 3: Major GPA application due.

•April 19: Town council work session.

•May/June: Line-by-line review (public involvement).

•July 12: Final draft plan presented at P&Z meeting.

•Aug. 9: P&Z meeting public hearing for major GPA.

•Aug. 16: Town council public hearing for major GPA.

•Sept. 13: P&Z meeting public hearing for major GPA.

•Sept. 20: Town council public hearing for major GPA.

•Spring 2018: Outreach regarding vote to ratify the plan.

•May 2018: Election to approve 2018 General Plan update.

For more information, visit www.queencreek.org/planqc.

News Editor Wendy Miller can be contacted at 480-982-7799 and via e-mail at qcnews@newszap.com, or follow her on Twitter @WendyNewszap123.

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