A study detailing Pinal County’s development patterns was the topic of a recent presentation to the Maricopa City Council. Planning Director for the Central Arizona Association of Governments (CAAG) Jack Tomasik presented preliminary observations on the county’s growth in terms of housing, jobs and transportation.

Pinal County’s population as of January 2006 was 267,142 with that number increasing on virtually a daily basis. Since 2003, annual population growth has hit the 23,500 mark, an 11% average increase from year to year. Pinal County as a whole had a three-year growth rate of 32.5%, adding 70,499 new residents. The City of Maricopa alone had a 150.1% growth rate and 12,466 new residents while Casa Grande had a 9.5% growth rate and added 6,689 to its population during the three-year period since 2003.

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CAAG Planning Director Jack Tomasik presents his findings while Deputy City Clerk Vanessa Bueras takes notes.

“Rapid growth does have some drawbacks,” indicated Tomasik, referring to land usage for Pinal County’s 5,369 square miles. His figures show that the current breakdown for that land area is as follows:

Open space and water -1,409.1 square miles
Urban residential – 1,330.3 square miles
Rural residential – 1,245.9 square miles
Agriculture and mining – 1,207.1 square miles
Employment – 101.6 square miles
Public facilities and military – 53.9 square miles

As of February of this year urban land use for Pinal County is overwhelmingly residential, accounting for 672.7 square miles of land use. Mixed use, small business and residential, accounts for 657.6 square miles; however, employment utilizes only 101.6 square miles. Active open space accounts for 83.8 square miles, and public facilities and transportation occupies another 49 square miles.

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“The studies show that there is just not enough planned employment and too much residential land use,” noted Tomasik. The fiscal impact of this imbalance is significant in two major areas, transportation and revenue.

Few jobs or job centers in Pinal County means more commuting, which, as Maricopa residents are very aware, leads to traffic congestion and slow downs. Increased road use for commuting leads to more investment in those roads and their maintenance.

Secondly, employment centers generate revenue in the form of salaries and taxes; residential use requires increased expenditures in the form of necessary service delivery.

The overall answer, according to the report, is a balancing act. Employment areas need to become a focus for cities and towns in Pinal County so that the majority of the county does not become a bedroom community for Maricopa County.

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