Inside Tucson Business
By Patrick McNamara | Posted: Friday, July 27, 2012 12:15 am
With an eye toward expanding its cluster of medical-research firms, Oro Valley officials have begun discussions about ways to streamline the development process to attract more biotech companies.
“We’re trying to create our own success and our own destiny,” said Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath.
The crux of the plan, which in its early stages has the support of the town council, would include amending the zoning code to establish an economic expansion zone in one area of Rancho Vistoso in northern Oro Valley.
That would require the council to amend the town’s zoning code to create an alternative process for development submittal, review and approval for businesses in what’s known as Rancho Vistoso Neighborhood 3, an area primarily along Innovation Park Drive. It’s an area that’s already home to Roche Group’s Ventana Medical Systems and Sanofi, two of the world’s largest medical-research companies.
Currently in Oro Valley, most development projects require at least two neighborhood meetings in addition to public hearings and meetings with town boards and the town council to get approval.
Hiremath said the new streamlined system would gather public input through neighborhood meetings at the beginning of the process. The proposal also could create a process allowing for more administrative approvals instead of having to get council approvals.
“The end result is more job creation, more critical mass, which we don’t have,” Hiremath said.
Other council members were generally supportive of the proposal.
Councilman Mike Zinkin said certain stipulations should be included such as excluding development plans that would require zoning changes or conditional use permits. Zinkin also suggested that any qualifying development proposal be no closer than 600 feet from residences.
“If you meet those three conditions, you can then just go through staff,” Zinkin said.
That final stipulation shuld be relatively easy to meet since Neighborhood 3 has no residential units. Also, per a 1987 planned area development plan that governs zoning in Rancho Vistoso, the developable area is reserved mostly for campus park industrial space.
Going further than Hiremath, Zinkin said the new process could take council or commission meetings entirely out of the equation. He said that because the area already has been zoned for campus park industrial and other business uses, the streamlining would not have an adverse impact on residents.
Hiremath and Zinkin estimate that a streamlined process could trim as many as nine months from the planning and development process.
The idea is getting initial support from business intersts in Oro Valley.
“This proposed zone is an excellent idea,” said Dave Perry, president and CEO of the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Perry said his chamber would support the plan to facilitate bringing more biotech firms such as Ventana Medical and Sanofi to the area.
It would create a “cluster effect” of synergy and competition. California’s Silicon Valley is one of the most renowned cluster regions in the world.
“Oro Valley does posses the closest thing we have to a cluster,” said David Welsh, executive vice president with Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities. “I think this is an important step for them.”
Welsh previously worked as Oro Valley’s economic development administrator. He said the possibility of saving development time could help attract more companies, particularly start-up firms. The operations of both Roche’s Ventana Medical and Sanofi began as start-ups in Oro Valley, Welsh noted.
“Instead of one Ventana or Sanofi every 15 years, we need one every year,” Welsh said.
The new effort plays into Oro Valley’s ongoing “rebranding” effort, as Hiremath described it.
“From 1974 to the early 2000s, Oro Valley’s single largest goal was to be the largest retirement community in Arizona,” Hiremath said.
Natural population growth and a spate of annexations through the 1990s and into the 2000s began to change that.
Between 2000 and 2010, Oro Valley’s population grew more than 38 percent, according to U.S. Census figures. Today, the town has about 40,000 residents.
While the population has grown, Oro Valley demographics still lean heavily toward retirees. More than a quarter of the town’s population is 65 years old and older.
Town officials hope this latest effort to attract more high-tech, high-wage employers, coupled with arguably one of the region’s better education systems, pays off.
Hiremath said he’s banking on something else to attract more biotech employers – a responsive mayor.
The Ventana Medical expansion in Oro Valley announced in 2010, followed months of conversations with site selectors and others working on behalf of Ventana Medical, which also considered going to Indianapolis for the expansion.
“The one thing I asked (a site selector) when we did this,” Hiremath said, “did the mayor of Indianapolis sit down with you?”
The answer was no, Hiremath said.
Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at email@example.com or (520) 295-4259
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