The developer behind a mixed-use development that includes a 150-room, six-story hotel in the Heritage District is requesting a 20-percent reduction in the required number of parking spaces.
The Heritage North project proposes four buildings of retail, restaurants and offices, the hotel, a stand-alone parking garage and a multi-family project with a parking garage at the southwest corner of Gilbert Road and Juniper Avenue.
The Phoenix-based developer will fund the entire 500,000-square-foot project.
“Before the whole coronavirus thing kicked in, that’s a pretty busy area especially on the weekends,” said Planning Commission Chairman Brian Andersen at a recent study session.
“Parking right now is pretty hard even with the new parking structure there, so I would throw some caution into how much of a reduction you allow,” Andersen said. “Personally, I would not allow a reduction but if it’s done administratively it sounds like we don’t have a say on that so I would just ask, ‘please be cautious about that’”
But the commissioners did have a say on use permits for residential on the ground floor of the 313-unit multi-family building and for height deviations for buildings,
The developer wants to reduce the minimal height of two buildings from the required 35 feet – two stories down to 20 feet, or one story – and increase the maximum height of four buildings.
Among the latter, the developer wants to raise the 55-foot/five story maximum for the multi-family and hotel to 76 feet and six stories, according to senior planner Ashlee MacDonald.
That height would exceed the tallest building in the Heritage District –the town-owned University Building, which is 68’8” high, MacDonald said.
He said town staff is conscious not to impact the view of the town’s iconic 123-foot-high water tower.
MacDonald told commissioners that staff has requested the developer redesign the buildings planned for retail and offices along Gilbert Road.
The developer wants to drop the height on that building but staff wanted a taller one to preserve the street appearance. She said staff was working with the developer and that perhaps a redesign could make staff comfortable with a one-story building there.
Commissioner David Cavenee said he had no problem with the request for a shorter building let people see what’s behind it and perhaps draw people to the development. He also supported the use permits.
Gilbert last year sold the 10.8-acre site downtown to Heritage North Partners, LLC. Charles Huellmantel, who represented the developer, did not respond to requests for comment.
The vacant land sits behind a Burger King and was a temporary downtown parking lot until Hearne Plaza Garage opened in early 2019 as the second parking garage for the Heritage District. The developer plans to remove the fast-food restaurant.
The development won’t have fencing except at the hotel’s pool so that the complex would be free-flowing with its surroundings, according to staff.
Heritage North’s parking spaces include 593 for the stand-alone garage and 518 for the attached garage.
MacDonald said the town’s code requires the development provides 1,354 parking spots and the developer is asking to provide 1,169 spaces instead because there is a proposal for shared uses.
Commissioners Jan Simon and Cavenee also were concerned with parking.
“I know that this particular lot currently gets lot of overflow parking from the nightlife that has been created there in the Heritage District,” Cavenee said.
MacDonald said staff completed the first review of the project and has asked the developer for more information, including how it thinks the site will function.
“That is something we are looking very closely at,” she said.
The two commissioners also voiced concerns with increasing the height of buildings to the south along the canal. Simon said he felt it could potentially wall off the Heritage District.
Simon also asked if the multi-family units would be condos or apartments, saying he feels the town has approved many apartment complexes but, to his knowledge, no multi-family condominiums.
MacDonald said she was unsure and would get that clarified.
Andersen, who lives within walking distance of the Heritage District, asked if there were any feedback from single-family homeowners near the proposed multi-family project.
MacDonald said she’s heard positive comments about the proposed development at one neighborhood meeting held so far.
Andersen also asked if a hotel was needed for the area.
McDonald said the hotel was another amenity the town wanted to offer in the Heritage District when it went out for requests for proposals.
Commissioners generally liked what they saw in the project Cavenee said it was a good example of a mixed-use project.
Added Commissioner Nathan Mackin: “This project to me is a no brainer.
“You give them as much flexibility as possible,” he said. “It’s a much higher and better use than the current development and given the fact as long as if flows with the current Heritage District and doesn’t detract from that usage I think it’s a wonderful complement to that district.
“I can see they know what they are doing. By allowing them to determine how best to develop it according to the market is wise on our part.”
Andersen said the proposed project is definitely what the area needs.
“It’s a great spot for it, it looks like a nicely designed project,” he said. “It’s exciting to see. Hopefully this will continue going forward and getting built.”
The project involves five applications with only three needing to go to the Planning Commission later or approval, according to MacDonald.
“At this time, no dates have been set for future action,” she said in an email after the study session. “Staff and the applicant continue to work together closely through the review process.