State law mandates that, every ten years, each city and town in Arizona adopt a “comprehensive, long-range General Plan for the development of the municipality.” At its core, the General Plan is a strategic guide that encompasses physical development, infrastructure planning and economic growth, touching on specific elements such as housing, environmental planning, open space, economic development, circulation, downtown redevelopment and growth areas. It is not intended to be a rigid or static document, nor to replace any existing zoning code. It is, rather, an expression of development policies to guide land use and development decisions that benefit the community for generations to come.
At the Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, City Council meeting, the Council heard an overview of the 120 page document, entitled, “Legendary Landscapes and Lifestyles.” The comprehensive document weaves common threads throughout, creating a vision statement that, as Councilman Jeff Struble stated, “moves the city forward while keeping our heritage in place. He added, “It’s a telling sign of what we’re trying to do here to improve the quality of life for our citizens and improve the community.”
Apache Junction Senior Planner Sidney Urias gave the presentation.
The proposed 2020 General Plan was developed through a comprehensive examination of the 2010 plan, a number of public meetings, presentations and outreach efforts to numerous committees, groups and community stakeholders, advertisement on the city website, as well as through various social media venues. An online and in-person survey answered by over 1,300 respondents, addressed topics such as types of desired development, uses in the downtown, transportation concerns and desired housing design/type. Eighty-nine percent (89%) of the respondents were full-time, year round residents and 68% were 54 years of age or younger.
Notably, the survey found that single-family residential and job creating uses are top development concerns, as well as quality services, mass transit and preference for the downtown as an entertainment center and restaurant corridor.
Some of the predominant themes from the comment section of the survey include the appearance of the community, the lack of businesses and shopping opportunities, and homelessness and the at-risk community.
Addressing the housing element, the plan reflects census information showing that 62% of existing housing in Apache Junction is manufactured homes/recreational vehicles. Another 31% of homes are site built, and 7% are designated as multi-family. “Data underscores the need to diversify housing over the next ten years,” emphasized Urias. “Our housing stock really has an impact on the demographics of the community. We have a large seasonal visitor population. Perhaps we can curb that with more people who are here year-round by offering different housing types.”
Urias pointed out that changing the demographic profile can influence spending trends, as well as improving the city’s overall image and marketability. “Businesses use rooftop numbers and demographics to determine if they are going to locate within a city. We will need diversification of our housing stock to attract new businesses.”
To help the development of the downtown, the plan focuses on best practices and walkability. “We tried to limit the size or scale of the downtown area,” explained Urias. “Best practices say that, to truly be walkable, it should be no more the ¾ of a mile in every direction from the center of downtown… We tried to limit the overall scale of the downtown area, so we limited it [from Royal Palm] to Ironwood. Previously the downtown area was all the way to Meridian.
“The planning commission also provided great insights,” added Urias. “They provided ideas such as using placemaking, tourism, the correct types of density and branding to create the downtown feel. The most important part of that element notes that, going forward, we really need a downtown master plan.”
The growth area element of the plan identifies five growth areas: the downtown area, the highway 60 corridor, the state land south of the 60, the Old West Highway corridor and the rural residential area. “Building these roads is very expensive,” said Urias. “Long term funding mechanisms are required. In addition to the types of funding that we already use, there is a possibility of adding a property tax.”
One consistent theme of the General Plan is low impact development, “which really talks about green infrastructure,” said Development Service Director Larry Kirch. Addressing water resources is a big part of that. “If this area is going to grow, we have to think beyond the conventional wisdom that says water comes out of the Colorado River, and it gets in a canal for 300 miles and then we put a straw in it. We have water resources here all around us that we should be thinking about.”
Apache Junction is taking an approach referred to as 1H2O, “which is really looking at water as one single resource. CAP water, aquifer storage, groundwater recharge facilities, rainwater harvesting… right now, those items are looked at separately. We are encouraging that future development look at all of these as one concept – looking at all of the water as one cycle,” said Urias.
“Most of the elements in the plan, you calculate how much water supply you need for future growth, and that water supply comes from groundwater or surface water from CAP,” Kirch elaborated. “But we need to be looking at all of it as the water cycle. That includes the recharge of treated sewer water, but also stormwater. All the stormwater that falls here goes somewhere else. There’s some ideas that maybe some of that water can be recharged. If we can meter some of that stormwater, we can get credit for recharging the aquifer.”
“I’m very excited about this General Plan,” commented Councilwoman Robin Barker. “It reflects the direction this Council and past Councils have been moving for the future of the city. It addresses the need for a variety of housing types; recognizes the need for affordable housing; environmental issues; creative water uses; a recognizable downtown and the preservation of our rural areas and our heritage.”
Most communities spend several hundred thousand dollars to have consultants develop the general plan; however, the 2020 Apache Junction plan was created entirely in-house, with input from many individuals and departments, as well as 1300+ survey responses from the public.
The document is not yet complete; the Planning and Zoning Commission will hold two more public hearings (Jan. 14 and 28) before the finished plan goes back to the council for a final vote. The commission’s goal is to offer the plan for adoption on February 4.