Mostly vacant medical offices in Mesa could see new life as apartments

Old, mostly vacant medical offices in west Mesa could be repurposed as apartments as metro Phoenix leaders look for ways to meet intense demand for housing.

 

Mesa leaders in December narrowly OK’d plans to convert a four-story office building near Country Club Drive and Brown Road into apartments in a 3-2 vote.

 

At a Planning and Zoning Board meeting, development attorney Ashley Marsh, who represents the property owner, used words like “failing” and “underperforming” to refer to the property. Converting the four-story building to market-rate apartments could be a much-needed boon to the area, she said.

 

Several area residents cited concerns about apartments adding more traffic to the streets and more students to the area’s already crowded classrooms, as well as disputed notions that crime rates increase when apartments are built and that people who own condos or homes take better care of their neighborhoods.

 

Many of the 15 residents who wrote in or spoke in opposition to the project specifically said they fear “low-income” housing would drag the area down.

 

But the project is far from “low-income.” Rents at market-rate apartments currently are “more than most mortgages,” Marsh said.

 

Blake Curtis, a partner at builder We Build Res, told The Arizona Republic the apartments are tentatively planned to rent for just less than $2 per square foot. He said many of the apartments will be more than 800 square feet, which would put the monthly rent at least at $1,600.

 

Curtis, whose company has built similar projects in Phoenix, said he hopes to start construction by June.The plans for the project, dubbed “560 W Brown Road,” call for:

 

  • A gated community with 103 units, made up of one studio, 41 one-bedroom units and 61 two-bedroom units. The units would be spread across the existing four-story building as well as a new three-story building.
  • Amenities including an outdoor running path with outdoor fitness equipment, a pool, a dog park, a grill with a seating area and bicycle racks.
 

Cities look to vacant retail, office buildings to meet housing needs

 

Mesa’s decision comes as metro Phoenix city leaders find themselves with record demand for housing, which is driving up rent and home prices. Other Valley cities are looking to put housing in vacant husks of retail and office space.

 

Phoenix officials are considering whether to make it easier for developers to replace shuttered stores with housing.

 

A closed L.A. Fitness and a closed Harkins Theatre in Phoenix already are being replaced with housing. Luxury apartments also are planned for a long-vacant office building at Central Avenue and Camelback Road.

 

Neighboring Tempe also has plans to turn a retail strip mall on Apache Boulevard, which has become inundated with pricey off-campus housing for Arizona State University Students, into a development with affordable housing and commercial space.

 

The move came just months after the Food City grocery store on Dorsey Lane and Apache Boulevard closed. City leaders in December OK’d a plan to buy the complex for $10.7 million and transform it into a community hub with affordable or workforce apartments, a new grocery store and a community space.Further east, Mesa also has signed off on plans to knock down an old K-Mart store and replace it with housing.

 

Why officials were split on the Mesa project

 

The rift on the Mesa Planning and Zoning Board came down to details: the property’s current zoning allows for apartments, so it’s not a matter of whether this project should be allowed, it’s a matter of whether it’s a good fit.

 

“As I look at our responsibility here, we’re not being asked to approve a zoning request here,” board member Jeffrey Crockett said at the meeting. “Our responsibility is to look at the plan that’s presented and determine whether or not it is consistent with the requirements of our zoning ordinance … It looks like it’s a quality project.”

 

But two planning board members, Vice Chair Deanna Villanueva-Saucedo and Shelly Allen, voted against it.Villanueva-Saucedo said it seemed like a good project, but she voted against it because the plans called for fewer parking spaces than what the area’s zoning requires.

 

Allen’s concerns were more in line with what nearby residents said: the area doesn’t need another apartment building. “I think there’s an oversaturation of apartments in that whole area,” Allen said at the meeting. “If it’s owner-occupied, it’s a whole other level. I would support something like that.”

 

Reach reporter Joshua Bowling at jbowling@azcentral.com or 602-444-8138. Follow him on Twitter @MrJoshuaBowling.

 

SOURCE: Arizona Republic

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