Gilbert planning officials narrowly gave the first green light to plans that could pave the way for hundreds of apartments in a largely commercial part of town, despite a lengthy report from town employees that advised them to reject the plans.
Town staffers in a report to the Gilbert Planning Commission said plans for Alta Gilbert, an apartment complex proposed for McQueen and Elliot roads, aren’t a good fit for the area.
The development would need the Town Council to amend its general plan — a voter-approved guide for growth — and rezone the land, which is currently zoned for commercial use.
“A critical component of building a resilient Gilbert is ensuring that our community has a balance of land uses and job opportunities,” the report said. “Protection of land designated for non-residential uses, such as the subject site, is a key to achieving long term sustainability.”
But the commission narrowly voted 4-3 to recommend the rezoning approval. The proposal will next go to the Town Council, which is tentatively scheduled to vote on it in November.
Commissioners who voted for it noted that there has been no pushback from residents.
“Here we have two neighborhood meetings where nobody attended to voice any concerns about this project. We’ve received 44 letters of support for this project,” Commissioner Brian Andersen said at the meeting. “The only people who are objecting to the project is staff, which is a pretty rare scenario.”
Plans for the development, which would include four buildings ranging from three to four stories, call for 278 rental units with:
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.
Staff: Development isn’t up to snuff
Town staffers raised several issues with the proposal.
They said in a written report to planning commissioners that the development falls short of town standards on several fronts:
It’s too close to industrial development, which could worsen “quality of life for residents.”
Being so close to industrial development would limit the businesses from expanding or redeveloping.
It would have too much of a visual impact on nearby homes.
It would use an additional 18.4 acre feet of water, enough for about 55 average Phoenix-area homes.
The staff report says the plan for this corner initially envisioned something with a mix of uses — much like the newer rental projects in downtown Phoenix or near Tempe Town Lake that feature retail or dining on the ground floor and apartments above.
“The current design completely separates the commercial from the residential via a large parking lot making it feel highly disconnected and not one cohesive development,” it says. “We are highly concerned the design does not meet the same level of quality as other higher end apartment complexes recently approved by the Town.”
The report noted that the town has not received any feedback from residents regarding the proposed development.
Sean Lake, an attorney representing developer Wood Partners, told the Planning Commission the developer did not want to create that type of development — with shops on the first floor and apartments above — because it didn’t want any portion of the development to sit empty.
“If we used the existing zoning, we would have to have the entire first floor to be retail,” he told the Planning Commission. “We’re not interested in filling up the residential for three stories and then have vacant commercial for a year or two … and I’m back before this commission and the council saying, ‘Guys, there’s no demand for the retail.'”
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Developer: Apartments would be boon to the area
Where town staff see a clash in vision, the developer proposing the project sees an economic shot in the arm.
Lake told the Planning Commission the apartments would be a boon to the area, especially as this corner has sat vacant for years.
“This property was zoned for retail development when I was in high school … that was over 25 years ago,” he said. “I think we’re here this evening with a good project that would allow this property owner to use their property in a very reasonable, consistent manner that we think will help with the revitalization of this area.”
Lake said much of the housing in the area is decades old, much like the original plans to put retail developments on every corner. He said a few hundred rental units could be a shot in the arm for the area, especially in the middle of a housing shortage in the Valley.
Lake billed the proposal as a win for taxpayers, too, and cited a letter of support for the project from the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce.
He said the apartments would bring hundreds of people to the area and surrounding businesses. The development would generate four and a half times the sales tax revenue that another industrial project would, he said.
“This was originally envisioned for four corners of commercial at this intersection,” he said. “As we’re seeing with the growing economy, the changing economy, there just isn’t the need for that much retail.”
Reach reporter Joshua Bowling at email@example.com or 602-444-8138. Follow him on Twitter @MrJoshuaBowling.
AUTHOR: Joshua Bowling