Peoria is a sad reminder of how cities can stifle redevelopment

Peoria offers an instructive tale about how cities should seek to ease the frictions development can cause, rather than attempt to dictate when, where and how it occurs.

SJ Acquisitions proposed to construct 200 apartments on an abandoned stretch of land along Grand Avenue.

The Peoria City Council voted against granting the necessary general plan amendment and subsequent zoning for the apartments. The city’s general plan calls for a destination, upscale, mixed-use development for the broader area, including offices, retail, residential, entertainment, hotels and a convention center.

Pretty maps don’t always reflect market reality
Based upon reporting by The Arizona Republic’s Taylor Seely, it appears that city staff has attempted to steer the council away from clinging to an implausible redevelopment agenda for the area.

No private developer has offered to finance and construct such an upscale mixed-use development on that site. A city-commissioned study found no demand for significant commercial development there, nor any reasonable prospect for such a demand manifesting itself in the foreseeable future.

If the city holds out for what is currently on the general plan, the land is likely to remain vacant for a considerable period of time.

City planners and politicians can draw pretty maps. But reality is what someone risking private capital is willing to build.

City planners can’t predict what might work
The Valley has an affordable housing shortage. SJ Acquisitions believes that there is a demand for an apartment complex on that spot, and is willing to risk the private capital to construct it.

If the apartment complex were built, who knows what additional development that might catalyze in the area. It would change the equation for other developers regarding what uses might pencil out.

City planners and politicians can’t outguess or predict these dynamics. Nor can anyone else. It requires letting the market work, as unseen and unknown investors constantly evaluate changing potentialities.

Too inflexible a city plan stifles the serendipity that Jane Jacobs, an insightful urbanologist, felt was the heart of successful redevelopment.

Metro Phoenix has a history of failures
There have been scads of big-dream city development projects come a cropper.

Decades ago, Phoenix put a lot of longtime independent downtown retailers out of business to make way for a massive, supposedly glamorous, retail complex that never got beyond the architectural sketches. It also cleared out a modest, largely Latino residential neighborhood near Sky Harbor for an industrial park that never materialized.

Similarly, Mesa condemned a central city neighborhood for a water park that never spouted.

Scottsdale moved a major street to make way for a large complex of boutique retailers, the Galleria, that didn’t take long to tank. Inflexible city plans delayed, rather than facilitated, its downtown redevelopment. Westworld has never lived up to the projections justifying it.

In some cases, city planners and politicians invent the impossible, or at least improbable, dream. In others, cities are seduced by big-talk, but ultimately empty-pocketed, developers.

Why snuff out a redevelopment spark?
There is a role for zoning. The effect on neighboring property owners is an appropriate consideration by city planners and politicians in evaluating proposed land use changes.

In the case of the Peoria apartments, however, there aren’t really any neighboring property owners with potential friction to be eased. It’s in the midst of a dilapidated area.

Instead, the use conflicts with the big dream of the city’s general plan. There’s less of a case for these things.

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They are required due to a political effort to finesse an anti-growth movement that gained some momentum around the turn of the century. An anti-growth initiative was headed to the ballot. As an alternative, the so-called Growing Smarter Act was approved. Beefing up requirements for a general plan and having it approved by voters was one of its provisions.

There’s little evidence that this has resulted in smarter, better planned growth. It mostly serves, as in the case of the Peoria apartments, as another inhibitor to Jacob’s serendipity – since it requires two steps, rather than just one, to get started.

Redevelopment has to start somewhere. If the market is saying start with apartments, why snuff out that spark?

Reach Robb at


AUTHOR: Robert Robb

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