Developer adjusts

The apartment buildings’ height is 10 feet lower than the buildings in nearby Epicenter at Agritopia. (Mill Creek Residential)

A developer last week presented a revised mixed-used project that now includes 274 apartments, down from the 308 proposed earlier this year, near Higley and Ray roads.

Mill Creek Residential wants a General Plan amendment and rezone on a 15.39 -acre dirt infill lot taking it from shopping center use to general commercial and multi-family with medium density.

“We’ve been at this now for nine months,” said Tyler Wilson with Mill Creek at the third neighborhood meeting held June 29. “We’re not trying to jam anything down people’s throats.”

Wilson said the developer has held off filing a formal application with the town because it wanted to listen and get the community’s input. About a dozen residents attended the meeting at Williams Field High School, about 1.5 miles from the project site.

The master-planned Lyon’s Gate community abuts the property on the west and south sides.

Modera Gilbert proposes two three-story buildings with apartments and two four-story buildings along Ray Road with ground-floor retail and three stories above containing 63 residential units and 78 underground parking spaces. Residential parking spaces total 505.

Wilson pointed out that even at four stories, the height would still be 10 feet shorter than the buildings at the mixed-use Epicenter at Agritopia across Ray Road.

The residential buildings include one, two, three-bedroom units and one-bedroom dens, which provide a place for people to work from home.

Rent is proposed to average over $2,000 a month, Wilson said, adding that the developer liked the site because it’s so near to the Loop 202 employment corridor, allowing people to live near their work.

He said the residential units would appeal to a broad cross section from single folks who like to live in a mixed-use, urban environment to older demographics who want the vibrancy and families.

The community would include a pocket park open to the public and amenities for the tenants such as a playground, open space and a clubhouse. An 8-foot tall fence, 3 feet of block and 5 feet of rod iron, is proposed to wrap around the two residential buildings at the south and most of the west side.

“One thing with these types of multifamily developments is they represent a lifestyle choice,” zoning attorney Brennan Ray said. “People very consciously choose to live in these kinds of settings.

“They’re OK with sacrificing backyards and maintenance to live in this type of development.”

The plan presented in the February neighborhood meeting had the two residential buildings at four stories and the plan the developer presented in the October neighborhood meeting pitched putting in 80 townhomes and 197 apartments.

The project’s commercial component has the potential to house 10 to 12 tenants in spaces averaging roughly 2,000 square feet, according to Wilson. A co-working site also is being programmed for the project.

Wilson commented that the town planners “have been very, very tough on us,” sending back the first plan because they wanted to see a project with more connectivity, was more pedestrian friendly and had more amenities.

Ray said the developer will seek deviations, including a “slight tweak” to the density and modify the open space and building height.

He said the multifamily medium density zoning is capped at 25 units per acre and the proposed residential units are at 26 units per acre.

He also said the developer doesn’t plan to hold any more neighborhood meetings and plans to file an application soon. He didn’t have an exact timeline but is looking at the project going to a public hearing with the Planning Commission and then Town Council in the fourth quarter of this year.

If approved, the project would be built in one phase and take two years to complete.

Attendees voiced concerns, saying there are already too many apartments in Gilbert, the proposed residential units would bring in more traffic to the area, affect their property values and increase service calls for public safety.

Former mayor turned lobbyist Jenn Daniels, on behalf of Mill Creek, said Gilbert Police actually did a study and found “there was not a high impact on calls for service” from multifamily dwellings and that they were proportionately the same as for single-family homes.

Daniels also said that the town has always had multi-family comprise 6-10% of its housing stock but that number is now below 6%.

There have been a number of studies by Harvard and MIT that showed apartments have no impact to single-family homes most of the time and incidents where there were positive effects on property values, Ray said

And, Wilson said, there is a major lack of housing.

Ray also addressed a resident’s comment that the apartments would bring in 584 additional vehicles.

It’s a common misconception that a one-bedroom unit would equate to two cars, he said. Instead traffic engineers look at the daily average vehicle trip during peak drive times to determine impact, he added.

That said, the average daily trip for a shopping center would be 37% higher than the proposal on the table, according to Ray.

He also explained why the current zoning on the site doesn’t work.

He said with more people shopping online, brick-and-mortar retail is not in demand and cited a Maricopa Association of Governments presentation that predicted two-thirds of all purchases will be online.

“This site is not viable for 15 acres of commercial,” Ray said.

Wilson added that the land seller tried unsuccessfully for two to three years to attract retail and got interest from a gym but when the pandemic hit, it went away.

The market’s not there for a big-box retailer or for a grocery store with a new Fry’s market southeast of the site, he said.

Richard Adams left the meeting, not satisfied with the changes.

“I’m still not happy with the project,” said Adams, who lives two streets from the site.

He said the Epicenter is still under construction so the full impact on traffic is not yet known and unless he gets a letter from every big-box retailer that they aren’t interested in the site, he remained skeptical.

He also believes that there will be a strong demand for a shopping center and a market on the 15 acres as there are apartments in the area being built and that the Fry’s near Recker and Williams Field roads is always packed with customers.