Council OKs zoning change for 5-story apartment buildings

Susan Buonsante of Glennwilde told City Council there is already too much traffic on Porter Road. [Brian Petersheim Jr.]
Maricopa City Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to approve land use and zoning changes for the proposed 536-unit Home at Maricopa apartment project, allowing the developer to build several five-story buildings despite significant public opposition.

Councilmembers Henry Wade and Rich Vitiello opposed the changes; supporting the development plan were Mayor Christian Price, Vice Mayor Vincent Manfredi, Councilmember Amber Liermann, Councilmember Bob Marsh and Councilmember Nancy Smith.

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The council approved and adopted a Minor General Plan Land Use Amendment to change land use from Public/Institutional (P) and Mixed Use (MU) to Mixed Use (MU) for 25.3 acres of vacant land on the east side of Porter Road, near Walmart.

It also approved and adopted an amendment to the city zoning map to rezone those acres to Planned Area Development from Light Industry & Warehouse. The apartment complex is being developed by Shelter Asset Management and El Dorado 27 LLC.

The public opposition by Glennwilde residents – echoed by Wade, who also lives in the community – focused on traffic safety and congestion along Porter Road and the height of the proposed buildings. The apartment complex would include four 4-story and two 5-story structures and have a maximum height of 54 feet, though a maximum height of 70 feet is permitted.

‘Done deal’

Most residents addressing council on Tuesday night complained about traffic on Porter Road, saying congestion is already a problem, especially during school drop-off and pickup hours. Others said they were concerned about the rezoning approval process and feel their concerns was not being seriously considered.

“To us, this seems like it’s already a done deal,” Susan Buonsante told council during the public comment period. “There is signage at the property and that could mean nothing. But there is an overall, general concern that our voices and the direction Maricopa is going is not being listened to, that our voices don’t matter.”

Buonsante also shared her specific concerns with more than 500 apartments going up in an already-congested part of town.

“We don’t have the infrastructure necessary to accommodate so much high-density, multi-family in one area,” she said. “Home values – I’m a Realtor – I can tell you that’s a real thing. Nobody wants to back to an apartment building. And I don’t honestly believe that anyone here hasn’t already made up their mind. So, we’re here to speak, but I don’t think any of us believe there’s going to be any amount of open-mindedness. Many of us moved here for the small-town life and affordability of housing. No one is asking us what we want, what do the residents of Maricopa want, and I think we should have a voice.”

Sue Van Gosen, a retiree who lives in the Elm Tree section of Glennwilde had concerns both about the proposed building height and traffic safety.

“This area was originally zoned for one-level patio homes, and eventually was approved last week for 4-5 story height,” Van Gosen said. “That doesn’t fit with anything around it. It will look out of place like a sore thumb. If we approve this and go ahead and build this site at four or five stories, any other development coming in will be able to use it as a precedent to ask for four or five stories when right now they’re asking for three. We don’t want downtown Tempe. We don’t want skyscrapers; we don’t want seven stories.”

Glennwilde resident Heather Williams also lamented the change in zoning.

“We moved here from Utah, and I asked all the questions,” Williams said. “I was a Realtor in Utah, so moving here I knew the questions to ask. Our Realtor knew all the stuff, so when we moved here, she told us everything that was coming into this area. Long story short, had I had known what is being presented now, I would not have moved into Glennwilde.”

Williams also took issue with the city’s policy of only notifying residents who live within 600 feet of a project of scheduled public hearings. Had she not been on the Glennwilde web page, she said she would not have known about the plan because the whole of Glennwilde is beyond the 600-feet limit.

‘Significant down-zoning’

The city, in its presentation by city planner Derek Scheerer, addressed the traffic issue, saying that if the zoning on part of the site had remained commercial, the resulting traffic would be significantly greater than with the apartments.

He said a big-box retail entity like a Home Depot or Lowe’s on the site would create up to 18,000 trips per day as opposed to about 2,500 trips for the apartments and 5,700 trips for the planned mixed-use portion of the development.

“As compared to what is being proposed under the PAD, this is a significant down-zoning of the site and traffic impacts to the area,” Scheerer said. “Just for comparison, the Home at Maricopa project overall will create 2,500 trips per day; the gas station at Porter and Honeycutt is 2,280 by itself. The Walmart across the street is approximately 10,000 trips per day, and everything that’s going into the Wells right next to Walmart is about 1,600 trips per day.”

City Manager Rick Horst laid much of the blame for Porter Road’s traffic issues on a minority of parents who disregard traffic regulations and guidelines when dropping off and picking up their students at one of the six charter or public schools along the corridor.

He said city staff has been meeting with staff at the schools for several months “about their failure to comply with their original traffic plans.”

He said the city has drone video of parents clogging roads and blocking private driveways while picking up their children. The video has been provided to the schools, which have been asked to revise their traffic plans by the new school year.

“Parents do not have a right to park in lanes, impede traffic, hold up traffic lights, park in turning lanes waiting for their kids to pick up,” Horst said. “So, we will…focus on that with what we call courtesy citations at the beginning of the school year – not to hit their pocketbook but to get their attention. And for them to solve the problem which parents are helping to create, quite honestly.”

Horst said if the traffic issues continue as the school year moves forward, the city will begin writing traffic citations.

Wade: ‘Public safety issue’

Councilmember Henry Wade told the audience that public safety was his primary concern but noted he did not like the five-story height, either.

“I used to take my grandson to Saddleback,” Wade said. “So, I’ve seen parents misuse the parking area, misuse the front area, make left turns on do not turn left signs. I’ve seen all this in my last 12 years living here in Maricopa … I have a problem with not having enough traffic safety so my grandson can cross the street to school.

“But I have to say if I was standing at that (public speaker) podium, I don’t want a five-story building. Glennwilde has taken the brunt of traffic and things that have been harmful to the community and harmful to the kids, and I think that Glennwilde has just about had enough.”

After the meeting, Wade said in regard to traffic: “People will do what they are going to do, and it will be difficult if not impossible to change people’s habits and behaviors.”

“We’re going to create a public safety issue with all that traffic,” he added.

Vice Mayor Vincent Manfredi said he entered the meeting leaning toward voting no but was swayed by information presented at the meeting about traffic numbers and the effect of reducing the height of the apartment buildings. He said the developer would build the same number of apartments no matter how council acted, but at least building higher created the opportunity for more open space and enhanced amenities.

“I don’t like five stories,” Manfredi said. “But what I like is irrelevant. This is an upscale community – no offense to the people who live in the (Oasis at The Wells) apartments by Walmart. This is more expensive, not a generic apartment complex. I dislike a generic apartment complex more than I dislike five stories. Look at the apartments on (State Route) 238, there’s not a lot of space between them. It looks like you could reach out the window and touch your neighbor.

“If we leave the zoning like it is today, if there’s a Lowe’s, if there’s restaurants, the traffic is worse and it’s all day long,” he said. “So, in reality five stories is less traffic than three stories because people will stay there because of the amenities available right there on the property.”

Nancy Smith said she supported the project for similar reasons.

“We are going to have buildings in the city of Maricopa that are 54 feet, 70 feet high,” Smith said. “So, the height doesn’t scare me because of the quality of the project. And the fact that if they go with just straight three-story apartments to get the value out of their property, you’re going to end up with the same amount of (units) and no amenities. And that doesn’t interest me at all.”

Councilmember Rich Vitiello did not speak at the meeting before his no vote, but later weighed in about his opposition to the zoning and land use changes.

“I’m going to wait and see how things pan out, what more info I can find out,” Vitiello said. “I’ll speak with the Planning & Zoning commissioners because I talk to them a lot. I just need a little more information to make an educated decision. I’m not against apartments, I’ve been very verbal that we need apartments because not everyone can afford a house.

“I want to see how the plans come together,” Vitiello continued. “They (the developers) will come back with the full design, and then we will decide. I’d rather say no now than say yes and have different numbers come out later. Could I persuaded to be a ‘yes’? Yes, I could, but I want to wait for more detail to come out. I’m in and out of those communities all day, and let me tell you, Gunsmoke Road becomes a racetrack with people trying to avoid going on Porter.”

The Planning & Zoning commission and city council must still grant final plat approval before construction on the project can begin.


AUTHOR: Jay Taylor

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