Brian Mori is a Realtor (R) and investor with a Masters Degree in development. He lives in Melrose and can be reached 602-575-1170.
Fast Facts: Upcoming Hearing Thursday Night @ 6 p.m., City Council Chambers
Millions of square feet of apartments have opened in the heart of Phoenix the last three years, and the next to break ground will probably be at a premier intersection.
The Phoenix Planning Commission will consider a zoning change Thursday night which would allow a 402-bedroom apartment complex to be built on the northwest corner of Central Avenue at Indian School Road in the heart of Midtown Phoenix.
The hearing is the second hurdle in Phoenix’s three-tiered zoning change process, and is expected to be approved without another hearing.
However, the project’s initial presentation received harsh criticism from The Encanto Village Planning Committee in June for what committee members said was a lackluster design, as well as a dearth of neighborhood outreach (click to read more.)
In response to their suggestions, Pennsylvania-based developer Toll Brothers went back to the drawing board and also hired people to knock on doors in the area.
Two months later, Toll Brothers’ attorneys returned to Encanto with a little more public amenity space, a few more specifics, and a face lift.
“We heard comments that we took to heart,” said Stephen C. Earl, attorney for Toll Bros. “This is why it took us (two) months to come back.”
The developers submitted over 90 form-letters in favor of the zoning change, all from within a mile of the project.
Encanto then voted 8-4 in their favor, along with several design stipulations, sending the project up the chain to the Citywide Commission.
If approved by commissioners tomorrow night, and then accepted by the City Council next month, the new zoning classification will allow more density, but will also require more strict adherence to the City’s guidelines for aesthetics.
Although apartments are already approved by current zoning, it is unlikely Toll Brothers can achieve their vision without redistricting from Transit-Oriented-Development to the newer Walkable Urban Code.
However, even City Staff admitted during hearings that specifics on the project will have to be fleshed out by city planners.
The unusually rectangular, 10+ acre lot fronts the Indian School Light-Rail station, bringing with it several opportunities for restaurant and retail.
It also brings concerns for traffic and safety, and Toll Brothers must agree to submit a traffic study that may result in necessary changes.
Unless requested by the Commission, or a member of the public, another hearing on this project is unlikely.
The Commission will meet in the Phoenix City Council Chambers at 200 w. Jefferson Street, Thursday, Oct. 3, at 6 p.m.
Those who wish to speak should show up early and submit a speaker card.
Many Support Project; A Few Concerns Remain
Over 90 people from the Melrose area signed generalized form-letters in support of the zoning change for the dirt lot at Central and Indian School.
According to the public records, approximately 35 of them reside, own property, or own businesses in the Carnation section, in which the proposed project sits. (Officially, “Carnation” borders Central to 7th Avenues, Indian School to about Turney Ave.)
Two of the supporters included prominent Melrose businesses, The Phoenix Burrito House and Melrose Manor.
The newest owner of the existing Station on Central Apartment complex, immediately adjacent to the proposed project, also submitted a letter of support to the City.
“We view the Toll Brothers project as the right height, use, and density for this location,” wrote David Wiener, who also wrote he bought The Station in 2017. “It has been designed to complement our site and is of very high quality.”
Anthony Bibars represents the company that purchased the S.W. corner of the same, high traffic intersection.
“(The Toll Brothers’ proposal) is exactly the quality living project that has been built in the Central Corridor in recent years,” he wrote to the City. “We are very much in support of the proposal.”
Both neighboring commercial investors purchased in 2017, according to records, though neither of their corporations are based in Phoenix.
There were no records in the public file from anyone associated with the ambitious, multi-tower commercial complex approved for the N.E. corner, probably because that project is at least a decade away from completion.
The form letter that Melrose area residents signed in favor of the Toll Brothers project did not include any specifics, but instead read the following statement: “This high quality project will activate a vacant corner while complying with the Reinvent Phoenix Initiative (…) Furthermore, their project prevents over development of the site, causing unintended consequences for the surrounding neighborhood.”
The form letter contained a mispelling of the new zoning district, but clearly indicated support for the project.
Neighborhood’s Comments Resulted in Changes
Tamiko Garmen is on the Board of the Carnation Neighborhood Association, and lives just blocks from the proposed project.
She spoke in opposition to the project in September.
“I like the changes that are proposed,” she told Encanto. “I am still concerned about the traffic, especially with the other towers that are going to built at that corner.”
Third Avenue is a semi-arterial that terminates at the Grand Canal half a mile north.
Garmen and other neighborhood leaders were concerned that residents may clog 3rd Ave. in the Carnation neighborhood, which does not connect to Camelback Road.
Their fears were similar to others from Encanto members, especially early in the project when Toll Brothers submitted site plans which included individual unit garages on that street.
They’ve since been removed from the plans.
Still, the complex will utilize rear surface parking and no communal garage is currently included.
The developers must continue to work with city planners to address traffic concerns, according to stipulations tied to the zoning approval.
There has been discussion of installing a traffic light at 2nd Avenue, and limiting left hand turns into the project from Indian School Road, but no decisions have been specified publicly.
Garmen, who originally wrote a letter of support for the project in April, said no one from Toll Brothers has contacted her in person, nor the board.
Carnation has not taken an official stance on the project since.
However, according to Garmen, notice of the developer’s original neighborhood outreach meeting in April included an incorrect date and time.
Phoenix and Arizona law require that developers seek input from affected neighborhoods prior to the formal hearings for zoning changes.
Toll Brothers’ attorneys acknowledged the mistake in front of the Encanto Village Planning Committee, but did not speak directly to Ms. Garmen.
The public zoning file included Carnation on its list of contacts, but no one associated with the project has returned requests for clarification or comment from T.M.L.
Taylor Earl, of the Central Avenue firm Earl, Curley, and Lagarde told Encanto in September that it was due to public input that several changes were made, including:
- The inclusion of live-work space along Central Avenue
- A left-turn-only exit from the apartments onto 3rd Avenue
- Dedicated restaurant/retail space facing Central and Indian School
- Bolder facades along Central and Indian School Road
- Participation in the Phoenix Recycles Program
- Removal of the individual unit garages on 3rd Avenue.
Though there has been discussion about reserving a certain number of apartments at reduced rates, no formal agreements reached publicly.
“There’s no affordable housing, and you’re not giving anyone who is like a school teacher an opportunity to live here,” Procaccini said in June. “I think you could accomplish your density goals, and appreciate what the (Walkable Urban) code requires, and do a whole lot more for this community.”
Though Encanto strongly encouraged such, and Earl said the developer was open to considering mixed-income tenants, the City has no jurisdiction to regulate private property rental rates.