Cloudy Horizon

The City-Subsidized Civano Development Has Lost Its Shine.

By Dave Devine

A FEW MONTHS ago, the forecast for Civano, Tucson's much-touted "Solar Village," looked cloudy.

Some City Council members were threatening to cut off the project's subsidy. At the same time, members of the Tucson/Pima Metropolitan Energy Commission were complaining about Civano's apparent turnabout on the subject of solar energy use.

But these stormy issues have dispersed, if only temporarily, and the first homes in the massive far-eastside development should be under construction soon.

Currents Enthusiasm for the project, however, seems to have waned to a point where some of its past supporters are now only vaguely hopeful about Civano's future.

Two years ago the Council voted 4-3 to award Civano $3 million. These tax dollars were in addition to more than $1 million in planning funds from the State of Arizona.

So far, Tucson has spent $2.3 million on Civano's roadways, sewers and reclaimed water lines. The city's Capital Improvement Program budget for the next fiscal year contains another $700,000 to complete these projects.

Last fall, before his election to the City Council, Republican Fred Ronstadt told The Weekly he opposed committing more money to Civano. Combined with the past opposition of Democrats José Ibarra and Steve Leal, and the campaign promises of incoming Councilman Jerry Anderson, it looked like future city funding for Civano was in jeopardy.

After his election, Ronstadt said he'd most likely oppose further city allocations for Civano. Ronstadt said it was the private sector's responsibility to fund these improvements.

In March, however, the Council approved funding for the project without much discussion or dissent. Ronstadt said he simply missed the project in the 400-page Capital Improvement Program. He adds, however, that he may want to reconsider the issue.

Ibarra, Leal and Anderson have said they'd also like to talk about Civano. So the city's financial commitment to the project may not be as clear as it was just a few weeks ago.

ANOTHER CONTINUING potential problem is the role of solar energy--or lack of it--in the project.

According to the Metropolitan Energy Commission, Civano originally "was to demonstrate the beneficial uses of solar energy." But several years ago, when then-City Manager Michael Brown got involved, the focus quickly changed. In essence, Civano suddenly became a showcase for "conservation in the areas of energy water, and waste." The role of solar energy had been greatly reduced, resulting in a project that could be built anywhere.

As a result, Paul Huddy, a physicist and past director of the Arizona Solar Energy Commission, says, "Many of us are asking what about Civano is worth $1 million to the people of Arizona as a model solar-energy project."

The change in character from "solar" to "sustainable" is also a sore point for some long-time Civano advocates, as well as Ronstadt. He quips that a "sustainable development" should not mean that project officials have to ask city government to sustain its funding.

And in a January memo to City Manager Luis Gutierrez, members of the Metropolitan Energy Commission concluded that many of the lots at Civano "have extremely bad orientation for solar design." They also noted officials of Case Development Enterprises Corporation, Civano's developer, had stated that solar hot water will not be a standard feature of Civano homes.

To address these and other disappointments, city officials and Case executives have been working for months on a memorandum of understanding. The current draft requires "the incorporation of some beneficial application of solar energy use in every lot."

Civano's energy standards now stipulate that "beneficial use of solar energy" can include any one of 11 options, ranging from photovoltaic systems to "the use of optimum window shade structures and orientation" to solar water heating for pools and spas.

The Energy Commission's Mary Ann Chapman says it would be nice if there were a lot of photovoltaic systems at Civano. But if that's not going to happen, she says, the Commission will have to take advantage of the project to educate the public about other solar energy uses.

Civano should certainly be an energy-efficient subdivision: The project's standards call for the target energy usage for each building to be 50 percent less than is currently required by the Tucson/Pima County Model Energy Code. But these reductions will be achieved mostly through superior insulation and other means, not solar technology.

So Civano might be an energy-efficient subdivision, but it certainly won't be a solar-powered one. And that's simply not the brighter Tucson tomorrow many people envisioned for this project when it was first conceived many years ago. TW

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