Gilbert leaders in a split decision approved a rezoning that could pave the way for nearly 300 apartments in a mostly commercial part of town, despite firm opposition from town staffers.
The Town Council on Tuesday voted 5-2 to amend the general plan — a voter-approved guide for growth — and rezone the property at McQueen and Elliott roads. Council members Kathy Tilque and Scott September voted against it, repeating many of the same concerns as staff: residential development would clash with the businesses and industrial development in the area and it could be tall enough to block people’s views.
Town staffers in a recent report wrote that the project isn’t a good fit for the area, which was until Tuesday zoned for commercial development.
“A critical component of building a resilient Gilbert is ensuring that our community has a balance of land uses and job opportunities,” the report says. “Protection of land designated for non-residential uses, such as the subject site, is a key to achieving long term sustainability.”
Critics on the Town Council agreed. It’s not that the project itself is bad, they said, it’s in the wrong area.
“It’s probably a great project somewhere else,” Tilque said.
The land has sat vacant for more than 30 years under the same owner. Councilmember Scott Anderson, who voted for the general plan amendment and for years served as Gilbert’s planning and zoning director, said it was time to move toward developing the land.
“I just don’t want to see this site sit vacant for another 30 years,” he said.
The Town Planning Commission in October only narrowly voted to recommend the council approve the general plan amendment. Planning officials voted 4-3 in favor of it, repeating the same concerns as staff.
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But as town leaders pointed out Tuesday, more residents and businesses supported it than opposed it. Residents sent in 44 letters in favor of it and 13 letters opposed to it. A handful of residents spoke against it at the meeting.
Phoenix area renters don’t have many options. Where is housing being built?
The Phoenix area’s rental market is busy. Vacancies are at a nearly 50-year low.
But plans to build apartments aren’t always a given. Municipal leaders and residents across the Valley often voice concerns about increased traffic and increased crowding in schools. They sometimes voice debunked concerns about apartments bringing crime, as well.
Rent has risen dramatically with demand. Apartment-hunting firm Zumper recently ranked Gilbert’s median rent as the 17th most expensive in the U.S. It listed median one-bedroom rent in Gilbert at $1,670 per month, more expensive than every other Arizona city on the list except Scottsdale.
And Gilbert for years has trailed behind many other Valley cities, particularly in the East Valley, when it comes to building multi-family developments like apartments and condos.
Data from the Maricopa Association of Governments show that, over five years from 2016 through 2020, Gilbert built 2,379 multifamily units, which includes apartments and condos. It lagged behind nearby Mesa’s 3,357, though the city is nearly twice the size of Gilbert.
Here’s how other cities of similar size stack up when it comes to multifamily units built from 2016-2020:
Scottsdale: 4,490 new multi-family units.
Chandler: 4,927 new multi-family units.
Glendale: 1,039 new multi-family units.
Tempe: 7,004 new multi-family units.
Peoria: 866 new multi-family units.
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What’s planned for the project?
Plans for the development are still in the early stages.
Sean Lake, an attorney for developer Wood Partners, noted the developer has not yet submitted a site plan to the town. The developer will work with Gilbert officials to address staffers’ concerns, he said.
Early plans call for four buildings ranging from three to four stories with a combined 278 units. Plans also call for:
A dog park for residents.
A pool and spa.
A fitness center.
A game room with billiards.
A coffee and tea bar.
Free Wi-Fi in common areas.
A clubhouse with a kitchen.
“We don’t want to see the north part of Gilbert look like the south part of Mesa,” Lake said. “We want to see some investment.”
Reach reporter Joshua Bowling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-8138. Follow him on Twitter @MrJoshuaBowling.
AUTHOR: Joshua Bowling