McQueen and Elliot

Town staff thinks this proposed apartment complex at McQueen and Elliot roads would impair their ability to attract industrial development.

Town planners say a proposed 278-unit apartment complex is not a good fit for 13.46 acres zoned commercial in Gilbert’s oldest and densest employment corridor and wants decision-makers to reject it. 

But the Planning Commission last Wednesday voted 4-3 to recommend that Town Council approve the request for a minor General Plaan amendment and a rezone allowing for the Alta Gilbert project on McQueen and Elliot roads.

 The case is expected to go to Council on Nov. 16 for final say.

“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,” said land-use attorney Sean Lake on behalf of developer Wood Partners.

 That northwest corner of the town contains mostly light industrial and back office space in the science, technology, aerospace and manufacturing sectors. The town is working on designating that corridor as a redevelopment area in order to reverse the area’s decline and keep it viable. 

Wood Partners is proposing two buildings three stories high and two buildings four stories high on 11.09 acres and a “specialty sit-down” restaurant at the corner on 2.37 acres for the second phase. 

The un-gated complex’s amenities would include garages, a resort-style pool, game lawn, cabanas, yoga and spin room, gym, clubhouse and a coffee and tea bar.

Staff opposed taking commercial land out of play.

“A lot of multi-family already exists in the area,” said senior planner Keith Newman. “We don’t encourage multi-family developments on arterial corners throughout the town and see this corner as more of an infill product that would be more appropriate for commercial and industrial uses similar to what exists to the west and to the south of this site.”

Newman said Alta Gilbert didn’t conform with several polices in the General Plan that support existing non-residential land use or would support a change from commercial to another non-residential land use classification that would remain compatible with the surrounding employment uses.

According to Newman, there were still unresolved staff concerns with the proposed project, including the fact it would force increased setbacks of industrial development west of the site and increased setbacks for commercial property north of the site, limiting any future expansion or construction.

Additionally, the three-story apartments proposed along McQueen Road would be visually unappealing to the residents living in the two-story single-family homes across the street, Newman said.

“The impact of two 36-foot-plus apartment buildings where the long side of each building faces the street that faces McQueen Road, totaling 388 feet of building frontage, will have a very significant impact on existing single-family homes across the street that are only a little over 200 feet away,” he said. “Imagine walking out your back door as being one of those homeowners and seeing these massive apartment buildings, two of them for a stretch of almost 400 feet.”

Staff also had a problem with the project’s conceptual elevation in that the design did not meet the same level of quality as recently approved high-end apartment complexes such as Elevation San Tan, Town Commons and Novel Val Vista, according to Newman.

  Newman also presented slides showing the number of multi-family units existing within a 12-mile, 5-mile and 3-mile commute radius of the site.

Within 12 miles, there are 1,989 multi-family properties totaling 185,170 units. Another 10,186 units are under construction and 4,223 have been approved but not yet built, according to Newman.

In a 3-mile radius, there are 6,454 multi-family units existing, 96 under construction and 252 approved, he said.

In all, approximately 5,000 multi-family units have been permitted in Gilbert that are not yet constructed, according to staff.

 Newman noted no one from the public showed up at two neighborhood meetings on the project and that Council has received 44 letters of support – 34 from tenants and 10 from property owners.

Lake said the days of four-corner retail are long gone with the advent of e-commerce and that the site has sat vacant for decades.

“This property was zoned for retail development when I was in high school,” Lake said. “That was over 35 years ago.”

 He said the property owner has waited patiently to develop the site while continuing to pay commercial taxes on it.

Lake said the town has seen expansive growth over the last 15 years in the east and south but “not much has happened in the northwest quadrant.”

“It’s kind of the older part of town that we haven’t seen a whole lot happen,” he added. “The majority of apartments that (Newman’s) talking about were built in the 1990s. So, we have an old housing stock. We don’t have anything new, anything nice.”

He also referenced a report from the Urban Land Institute Arizona, which in 2019 took a look at the Northwest Corridor and recommended the Town put in more multi-family residences to support the workforce in the area.

 “We are woefully behind in the country, as in the state of Arizona, on the amount of rental units that are needed in this state, in the Valley and I think Gilbert is one of the least percentage of multi-family housing of any city in the East Valley,” Lake said. “We need more housing stock in this community and if you’re going to have multi-family housing stock you might as well put it in an area where the community wants it.”

 Lake also addressed staff’s strong encouragement that the developer look at a loft-above project where there would be residential on top and retail on the bottom floor of a building, which would not require a rezone or minor General Plan amendment. The Epicenter at Agritopia is building such a project.

If the developer stayed with the existing zoning, the entire first floor would have to be for retail use and in “our opinion there is just not the demand in this area for that amount of retail,” Lake said.

“We’re not interested in filling up the residential for three stories and then have vacant commercial for a year, two, three years and then I’m back before this commission and the Council saying, ‘guys, there’s no demand for the retail in this area. Let me put homes in there,’” he added. “And then all of a sudden we’re back to rezoning the property or whatever the staff would make me do at that time.”

Lake said a commissioned study by Elliot Pollack found that “The Wood Partners project would generate over 4.5 times the amount in annual local tax revenue compared to an industrial project.”

The project also would generate over $3 million in construction taxes and Alta Gilbert would bring in $560,000 annually in taxes to the town compared with industrial’s $315,000, according to the consultant. 

Staff said the Pollack study didn’t take into account the multi-family that exists or are being built.

Lake said the developer would be making a $70 million investment in the area and that the household incomes of residents at Wood Partners’ multi-family developments are over $100,000.

 Chairman Jan Simon asked staff if there has been any commercial or residential interest or if they’ve heard of any coming down the pipeline for the site.

Economic Development Director Dan Henderson said staff has talked with a number of retail, residential, office and industrial brokers about the site.

“We’ve also talked with landowners immediately south of the area and what those individuals have told us is that there is interest in developing other product mixes on this site,” Henderson said. 

“We talked with an individual today as a matter of fact that is just south of this site and he very specifically said once the dust settles on this he’d be more than happy to pursue light industrial development and put a couple hundred thousand square feet of light industrial on this site,” Henderson added.

Vice Chairman Noah Mundt said he knows the area well and that it would be nice to have something nice on the dirt lot. But his hang-up was with the impact on the setbacks to the adjacent industrial and business uses.

 He said it was easy to say put industrial use on the site but if no one is willing to pay market value for that, it’s a disingenuous statement.

Although the proposed project was not a perfect fit within the General Plan, it would help revitalize the area, Mundt said, adding that the developer’s efforts showed a quality product.

 Commissioner Brian Andersen said this was an unusual case for him in that typically the public would show up against a multi-family project. But no one has voiced concerns and there were letters of support, he noted. 

As for the setbacks, he didn’t see it as a problem as it was unlikely the existing industrial user would be expanding.

Andersen’s hesitancy was that the developer submitted a detailed development plan that must be adhered to with no room for change to resolve concerns or improve the design later on.  

The commissioners voted separately on the recommendations for the minor General Plan amendment and for the rezone.

The votes were the same with Commissioners Brian Johns, David Blaser, Andersen and Mundt giving the green light to Council while William Fay, Anthony Bianchi and Simon dissented.