Phase one of Vestar’s plan

Phase one of Vestar’s plan, in the lighter shade, would be devoted to houses while the timing for construction of the retail in the phase 2 area is uncertain, according to the developer.

A retail real estate developer has cleared an initial hurdle to put homes on agricultural land zoned regional commercial in southeast Gilbert.

Planning Commission voted 6-1 last Wednesday to recommend Town Council approve Vestar’s request for a rezone and minor General Plan amendment on 39.9 acres and leave 14.8 acres commercial at the southwest corner of Higley and Riggs roads. 

The land once housed a dairy farm and has sat undeveloped since 2003, when it was rezoned for big-box retailers that never materialized.

“We live south of the proposed development,” said Travis Leintz. “We’re very much for the development of this property. What’s there now are dilapidated trailer homes, (a) broken down dairy farm with lots of flies, tremendous smell and we’ve been waiting for the day for when this will be developed. Any development there would be a vast improvement.”

Vestar proposes two phases with 118 homes in the first phase and the second being the Greer Towne Center, which would include 44,600 square feet of retail space. 

The master-planned community would be called Cordillera.

A packet of 23 letters in support was submitted to the commission while three residents last week spoke against the proposal.

“This development directly affects me,” said Rick Blasier, whose house backs up into Riggs Road. “There needs to be another look at the plans before sending it to City Council.”

He said the proposed lot sizes were too small and didn’t fit the character of the area, where homes are on half-acre lots.

Blasier said he would have supported the project had the developer listened to residents’ concerns in a neighborhood meeting. 

Blasier said the developer told residents there was not a demand for homes on larger lots. But he pointed out there are over six developments already built with half-acre lots that are doing well.

Blasier noted Town Council in 2014 rejected the developer’s plans for housing when it wanted to build homes on the entire acreage.

Marcus Bates said the developer told residents at the neighborhood meeting that the homes couldn’t be single-story, but noted now there are two plots with single-story homes. 

He said residents were not opposed to the project but wanted it to be more in line with the area homes.

Bill Brothers said residents don’t want to lose any more commercial land in Gilbert.

“We are figuratively dying for retail services,” he said. “There’s drive-thrus, fast-food and groceries but that’s it.”

He said the town has been converting acres of commercial land south of Germann Road to where significant retail dollars are leaking into Chandler and Queen Creek. And, he said, the town’s transportation infrastructure can’t support more housing in the area.

“Because of the unfortunate northward bend of the 202 it effectively cuts off the southern part of Gilbert. So, every family in that proposed neighborhood is going to have to access the 202 at Val Vista,” he said. “Unless we put in a full cloverleaf loop in there, we can’t handle any more traffic going through there.”

Brothers said if the developer were to build the commercial phase first, perhaps that would help alleviate some of the residents’ opposition.

Attorney Ralph Pew, representing Vestar, said the project integrates well with the surrounding neighborhood.

He said there are various reasons why Vestar wanted to build the housing first, given the site hasn’t been viable for commercial because of e-commerce’s take-over. Pew said there are 46 acres of remaining commercial land in the area, thich he called plenty to serve residents’ needs, and shared data showing the Southeast Valley was well-served by commercial uses.

And, Pew said the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce is in support as well as planning staff – which would not be the case had the town’s economic development staff opposed it.

Commissioner David Cavenee wanted Pew to explain the phase 2 timing, referencing Brothers’ comment that it would be nice for commercial to develop first

“Over the last month and a half, the circumstances got worse,” Pew said. “We are seeing today one of our major commercial clients that had hundreds of calls today from tenants wanting abatement of rent and deferral of rent. When will they come back after this COVID-19 is over? Who knows?”

He said putting in housing first would help support the planned commercial development.

 “Given the circumstances today, I can’t make a promise when commercial will begin,” Pew said. 

Commissioner Noah Mundt wanted to know about the meetings between the developer and residents, given comments they weren’t listened to.

Senior Planner Ashlee MacDonald said she was not the planner assigned to the project when the meetings were held and could not share what occurred.   

Mundt said he knows the area well and added that portion of Gilbert would be served well with the proposed project.

Vice Chairman Carl Bloomfield said the time for big-big stores has sailed.

He and Commissioner Scott September said they liked the project and were glad to see some commercial was left intact.

Commissioner Phil Alibrandi was the sole dissenter. He did not comment on why he voted against the rezone and minor General Plan amendment.