A developer got Planning Commission support for 21 houses on a 3.54-acre vacant infill site near Greenfield and Elliot roads despite concerns about density and loss of privacy from residents whose homes abut to the property line.
Vasari Asset Management’s proposed Cottage Lane project is scheduled to go before Town Council for final approval on Oct. 19. The company’s principals are a Gilbert father-and-son team, Norm Nicholls, president of Fulton Homes, and Brian Nicholls.
“Being able to see the mountains over the fence is a great thing as long as you can’t see the weeds below it,” Commission Chairman Carl Bloomfield said last week. “But we drive by Greenfield and we see the weeds in there and we see it’s been an empty pocket for a long time.”
Bloomfield added that he knows the Nicholls and worked for Norm Nicholls as an engineer many years ago and can attest to the quality of his projects.
“This is his neighborhood,” said Bloomfield, who was presiding over his last meeting after submitting his resignation. “He lives down the street from this and he’s going to be proud of what he puts together.”
Calling the project “not typical for an infill piece,” he said:
“It’s usually a land grab, cramming everything in there, no open space, no room to play. It’s all about the economics. It’s not that way here. It appears and it feels that way, I get that.
“But it’s really not in terms of what we typically see here on the Commission on other projects. This is a not a land grab. He’s trying to put together a development he can be proud of that we all can be proud of as a community and that will be a great place for somebody else to live in Gilbert so that they can appreciate Gilbert as well.”
The Nicholls’ request for a minor General Plan amendment and rezone would allow them to increase to a density of 5.93 dwelling units per acre from the current zoning of 3.5-5 dwelling units per acre.
The proposed single-family houses would have two stories and come with two-car garages and 20-foot driveways.
Cottage Lane also would set aside 18 percent of the site for open space and amenities and provide 20 guest parking spaces. Access to the development would be from Greenfield Road only so there won’t be vehicles passing through the Finley Farms neighborhood.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to be here tonight and to present what we think is a really cool infill project for the town called Cottage Lane,” said Chris Webb, project management director for Rose Law Group, which represented Vasari on the project. “Cottage Lane will be a high-quality development from a great development team that truly is second to none here in the Valley.”
According to Webb, the developer has flipped the site plan to address the concern of Finley Farms residents that the project was not compatible with their community.
“We started taking a closer look at the sizes of the homes and the values of those homes that surround the project,” Webb said.
“What we realized – and weren’t keenly aware of before – is that the large, more expensive homes are actually along the west and the southern boundary and the smaller, less expensive homes are on the northern boundary. So, we took a look at this and decided that by flipping the site plan we could actually match up values and home sizes a little bit better.”
He said Cottage Lane’s houses on the northern boundary were now larger or the same size as the Finley Farms homes facing them.
He added that the lot sizes and setbacks also closely match those at Finley Farms.
As for privacy, the developer will raise the common property-line walls, plant additional perimeter trees or purchase trees for the abutting homeowners to put in their backyards.
Additionally, the developer has proposed no living rooms or master bedrooms on the second floor to minimize big congregating areas, Webb said.
“This is an infill project but I want to point out it is not a high-density project,” he said. “The existing General Plan designation allows us to go up to five units to the acre. We’re only proposing 5.9.”
The developer’s changes, however, didn’t deter residents’ opposition to the project.
Craig Lawson, the representative for the other 16 homeowners affected by the project, admitted change was hard after having the empty field for so many years.
Lawson said he had no doubt Cottage Lane would be a quality development but he questioned if it needed to be built and if the Town had the support for that growth.
“Why are we really building this development?” he said. “The question to ask the Planning Committee is what’s enough? Gilbert currently is the fifth largest town in Arizona.
“Currently, if you drive any of the streets in Gilbert what you’ll find is that all the little corners and nooks and crannies that have never been built on are now being built upon. That leads our neighborhood to ask questions like what’s enough?”
He said with the water situation in the state, did Gilbert have the water it needs to support the development and could the roads support the traffic.
“Why do we have to fill up every nook and cranny,” Lawson said. “What’s enough? Where do we draw the line?
Three other homeowners spoke, including Amy Mills, who said the commissioners might not consider the project high density but it is when it’s going into the residents’ backyards.
Mary Ruegge said she moved to Finley Farms 23 years ago for its parks and open space and quality of life.
“This to me doesn’t fit the Finely Farms community,” Ruegge said. “Where are the open spaces? We’ve got 75 to 100 kids potentially living in this community here. Where are they going to ride their bikes, where are they going to play?
“To me, it’s going to spill over and they’re going to go on Greenfield Road and come into our community, which is fine that they come into our community but I’m looking at quality of life, not quality of the project.
“I understand Fulton Homes has a great reputation and I’ve seen their developments and their high-quality materials. I would just like to see high-quality of life happening and (for it to) be more consistent with what Finley Farms represents.”
Planning Manager Eva Cutro said the town has “a 100-year short water supply and that Gilbert has not yet grown into the full use of its supplies.”
She added that Gilbert has recharged approximately 200 billion gallons of water, which was over nine times what its annual water use is and has the second largest balance of storage credits among cities within its management area.
Commissioner Tyler Jones asked Webb if the developer could have stayed within the five units per acre designation with another design.
Webb said certain number of lots was needed in order to make the project viable and that other options were studied and what was being presented was the most compatible with Finley Farms.
Commissioner Brian Andersen said the 21 units proposed was not unreasonable and that under the current zoning the project could max out to 18 units.
“They’re only asking for three extra units on this site to build it out,” Andersen said. “To me, that’s not a deal breaker.”
Vice Chairman Jan Simon said it came down to property rights for him and that the project looked nice.
The Commission voted 6-1 to recommend the Council approve the request. Jones cast the dissenting vote.
The Commission last Wednesday also approved 7-0 a conditional use permit for O.H.S.O to operate a public park at the southwest corner of Hearne Way and Bricomp Boulevard in the Heritage District.
The restaurant would be leasing the vacant dirt lot from businessman Marc Barlow.
The park, which would have natural turf, would be an extension of the restaurant with a direct connection to its patio. People will be able to buy drinks and pre-made food, listen to bands and buy goods from local retailers on site. The permit does not need to go to Council for approval.
The representative for the project has said the park is scheduled for opening by the end of the year.