A large-scale residential community is taking shape in south Gilbert.
The Planning Commission unanimously recommended Town Council approve Maracay Homes’ rezoning request on 162 acres at the northwest corner of Val Vista Drive and Ocotillo Road for 486 homes.
Council is expected to hear the zoning request March 24, according to planner Nathan Williams.
The developer is currently building 332 homes directly to the south of the site on 160 acres at the northwest corner of Val Vista Drive and Chandler Heights Road, the former Hamstra Dairy site, and is under contract for the chunk of land adjoining the two parcels, according to attorney Brennan Ray, representing Maracay.
“Maracay is developing a lot of land here,” Ray told commissioners. “So, all told, this entire roughly 480 acres will be known as Waterston. It is planned to be a master-planned, HOA-controlled over all three parcels.”
The 162-acre proposed development coming before the town now is called Waterston-North and the developer has been working with town planners on it since summer 2018, Ray said.
He added Maracay made a number of concessions to address town concerns, including dropping the density from 672 homes to the current 486 homes on six different lot sizes.
Resident Jenna Bishop who lives near the project, acknowledged the positive changes made by the developer. She and two others spoke about the proposed pedestrian gates.
“I do love this design, it looks really good,” she said. “My biggest issue, though, is with the gates themselves.”
She said an elementary school under construction at the northeast corner of Ocotillo Road and 148th Street “lends itself to an environment needing to be created with more of a community and school-community focus.”
Chandler Unified School District is hoping to open the K-6 Robert Rice Elementary School this summer.
Even though the developer agreed to leave pedestrian gates open to the public from dawn to dusk, it would still be a problem for those walking to the school from the communities north and east of the site, according to Bishop.
“Right now, how it’s proposed it will basically be a school kind of separated from its community, behind gates, behind block walls,” she said. “You saw 400-some acres. Is it all going to be blocked off from the rest of Gilbert? I feel like it creates a division with the Gilbert community as well as with the community being built.
“Members of the gated community become residents of their own special community instead of Gilbert as a whole and it blocks off Gilbert as a whole from the community.”
Jennifer Connors said she and her family are bicycle riders and it doesn’t make sense to have the pedestrian gates because they would have to stop and open the them, disrupting a free flow.
She said her biggest concern was with the dawn-to-dusk unlocking of the pedestrian gates, which would only be accessible by a coded keypad.
“This time changes throughout the year,” Connors said. “What about Halloween night when kids want to go over there and go trick-or-treating?”
She added her community to the immediate north is a tight-knit one where families bond over school.
“All these children in my community are going to be going down to that school, they need to have free access not just for the school but for their friends,” Connors said. “They are all going to be going to school with these kids and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to have a gate for the pedestrian entry.”
She said in Chandler, there is a neighborhood near an elementary school gated for vehicle access but allows pedestrians into the community without a barrier.
Ray said the gates would protect a planned $3 million central park for the community and reduce the number of vehicles and slow down traffic speed going through the development.
School traffic can create a headache with vehicles parked and lined up on the neighborhood streets, he said.
With the gates, Maracay also would be able to build narrower private roads still meeting Gilbert codes but allow for deeper backyards, Ray said.
He added the developer worked with the school district in providing pedestrian gate access through the community.
Chairman Brian Andersen asked the purpose for the pedestrian gates and why the developer couldn’t gate the center amenity and the larger-lot homes instead.
Ray said part of the reason is a gated community provides security as well as a perception of security and protects Maracay’s sizeable investment in the amenities.
“It’s designed to try to discourage as many people as possible that don’t live in the community from using HOA center in the middle,” Ray explained.
He said the gated community meets the town’s general plan goals in providing pedestrian connectivity and staff was in support of it.
Andersen also asked about children accessing the gated community during Halloween, past dusk.
“Halloween is really when everybody kind of gets together as a community,” Andersen said. “There’s not a whole lot of opportunity you can go up to a stranger’s house and ask for candy and they give it to you except for one night.”
Ray said the developer would be happy to see how to program the pedestrian gates to be unlocked during special nights like Halloween.
Commissioner David Cavenee said he normally doesn’t support gating a community unless there were good reasons for doing so.
“If the gate was just for exclusivity reasons, I’m not a fan,” he said. “In this case, the applicant makes some pretty good points.”
He said the location of the school was not typical so ingress and egress to it in an un-gated community can be challenge for residents if those streets were not used properly.
“I know I use to drop my kids off school and I found every quick route I could to get around the school and it meant going through everyone’s neighborhood,” Cavenee said. “And I know they didn’t love it, so I’m sensitive to it.”
He said he could appreciate the rationale for the gates and noted the developer found a middle ground in unlocking the pedestrian gates during certain times.
Commissioners Jan Simon, Scott September and Noah Mundt acknowledged the major concessions the developer made since the project was first introduce at the Oct. 2 study session.
Simon said he lived near a school and sees fewer and fewer children walking to school and more and more parents driving them “and going through neighborhoods quite quickly.”
Mundt said commissioners’ talk about schools made it sound like they are a scourge upon society when they are not. He said he lived near a school also and can live with a little bit of traffic. He added he understood the business aspect of gates as the developer tries to sell the homes.”
“Typically, I’m not a fan of gating an entire 160 acres, for all the reasons mentioned,” Commissioner Carl Bloomfield said.
However, after hearing the reasons for gating, he could see why it was needed, Bloomfield said.
“You’ve done all your homework to make sure this works,” Bloomfield added.
He then asked the developer’s plans for the middle parcel, which he acknowledged was not related to the case before them. The southern 160 acres at Val Vista and Chandler Heights under development is only half-gated.
“I don’t know if we decided yet if this middle section will be gated or not,” Ray said. “We have not gotten that far in the planning process yet.”
Ray said the developer will take into consideration the concerns aired at the meeting by residents and commissions.
“That is something that we will take a hard look at,” he said.