As streets go, there's ugly, and then there's Grant Road.

Jim Hogan has been in business along Grant since 1976, and he'll be the first to say it's not an attractive street. The Realtor and the owner of a real-estate-education school says there are junky buildings along the corridor, and it's not pedestrian-friendly.

Robert Tait, president of Budget Insurance, notes the west end, in particular, really needs help. "It's in a distressed, lower-income area that has a number of trashy buildings. It has a real need for landscape improvements. It's just not a nice area."

The two businessmen are hopeful that change will come with the widening of Grant, the largest roadway-improvement project in the voter-approved 2006 regional transportation plan. The $166 million project will create a six-lane arterial stretching from Oracle to Swan roads.

"The whole character of Grant Road should really change to be a much more friendly environment and more pleasant for the neighborhoods on either side," Hogan said.

Hundreds of businesses will be affected over the life of the project.

The City Council today will discuss an overlay zone some say could help change the character of the strip.

The conceptual proposal, which would have to be fleshed out over the next year, would let property owners use existing zoning or work under the concept of an "urban overlay" zone that could allow for a mix of uses, mingling commercial and residential development.

Think street-side cafe on the bottom level, with some residential on the second story, for example.

Some city zoning restrictions don't allow for such mixed uses, which improve not only transit opportunities, because of higher density directly along the arterial, but also neighborhoods by bringing retail uses such as coffee shops and restaurants within a walkable distance, said Transportation Director Jim Glock.

Glock said the city is purchasing right of way for the road project.

In some cases, the city will be left with chunks of land that are too big for the road project itself but too small to develop on their own.

Glock said the city may combine a number of such parcels and then reconfigure the property and sell it off for private development.

Such opportunities would be available for existing private properties within the zone as well.

If the council signs off on the concept, more defined plans and boundaries would still have to be worked out and ultimately approved by the mayor and council, said city planner Jim Mazzocco.

It's a long process, since it will mean seven neighborhood plans will have to be amended to accommodate the new overlay zone.

Tait's property will lose a string of parking spaces to the widening project, but he said he's nevertheless looking forward to the easing of the Grant Road bottleneck. He said he's hopeful allowing developers more flexibility will spur more investment.

"If you look at Speedway and Broadway, after those areas were widened, that's when you see investors come in," Tait said.

The first phase of construction, tackling the intersection of North Oracle and West Grant roads, is expected to begin in the spring.

"The whole character of Grant Road should really change to be a much more friendly environment and more pleasant for the neighborhoods on either side."

Jim Hogan,

Realtor and the owner of a real-estate-education school

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at rbodfield@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.