Affordable housing proposal in Surprise has mixed response

Minnesota-based Dominium proposes all ages, senior complexes on corner of Waddell, Cotton


A small but contentious group of residents showed up for an informal meeting April 27 with representatives of the city and of Dominium, developer of the proposed Promenade affordable housing apartment development in Surprise.

While those around the proposed apartment and retail project on the southwest corner of Waddell Road and Cotton Lane did not leave that meeting completely satisfied, both the landowner next door and a Surprise employee said neighbors left the informational gathering less concerned.

James Truman was among those residents. He grew up on this land, known at one time as Truman Ranch a 160-acre property stretching from Sweetwater Road north to Waddell and Cotton Lane west to 175th Avenue from 1946 until 2007.

Mr. Truman said he entered the meeting believing the project out of character for the area, but left hoping for some tweaks more than wishing the project would fall through.

“I’m not beating down the door to chase them away. I would like to see them lighten the density,” Ms. Truman said.

Along with local representatives of the Minnesota-based Dominium Inc., Surprise assistant director of community development Lloyd Abrams attended on the city’s behalf.

He stated in an email his attendance was strictly to listen to nearby residents’ concerns and answer questions pertaining to the city the developer could not answer.

“In my opinion, the meeting was very helpful to the developer to understand the concerns of Mr. Truman and the county residents to the north of the project site. I also believe it was helpful to the residents to hear what was being proposed and clarify what is meant by Section 42 housing,” Mr. Abrams stated.

Section 42 refers to a federal tax credit offered to build low-income or affordable housing. To qualify under the section:
• At least 20% or more of the residential units in the development are both rent restricted and occupied by individuals whose income is 50% or less of the area median gross income, or
• At least 40% or more of the residential units in the development are both rent restricted and occupied by individuals whose income is 60% or less of the area median gross income.

The program is different from Section 8, the name for HUD-subsidized housing programs. In Section 8, residents benefit from rents that usually allow them to pay 30% of their monthly adjusted income as rent, while HUD pays the difference between what a unit rents for on the open market (the contract rent) and what the resident can afford to pay (the tenant rent).

Dominium is proposing to build Prommenade with a family community with three-story clustered, residential buildings on 20 acres, and a four-story age-restricted senior community on eight acres.

“Both the family-oriented and senior living communities will be offered at 60% or less of the area median income in compliance with the Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations, as well as the Section 42 Low-Income Housing Tax credit program. There is no Section 8 housing as part of this project,” Mr. Abrams said.

Mr. Truman said he still finds this area of western Surprise an odd place to build an affordable housing complex, given the lack of many places to go or public transportation nearby.

“I support what the government does to provide affordable housing. I just think this development is massive and it is out of place,” Mr. Truman said. “The commercial and the retail development is not out here.”

He saw the area evolve slowly before the rapid development of Surprise grew this century.

As he was growing up the area was called Waddell, and the current unincorporated area called Waddell west and south of modern Surprise was named Citrus Point.

“It’s been unusual. I’ve been here for 74 years. I went to Agua Fria High School and was isolated from townies,” Mr. Truman said.

The Truman patriarchs died in an 1986 car accident, leaving the property to a trust for their 12 children. James Truman said as the land grew more lucrative for development, most of his siblings wanted to cash out — leading to the original sale of most of the property in 2007.

Originally, most of this city block, including the land south of Sweetwater and north of Cactus between Cotton and 175th, was going to be part of a major development called Magnolia. Mr. Truman said he liked the plan but knew at a certain point it would not work.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t have his ducks in line. We told him it was a stretch to do what he was trying to do,” Mr. Truman said.

Now the property has been carved up into bite-sized pieces. In addition to Paradise Honors high school and middle school just south of Paradise Lane and east of 175th and Legacy Traditional School-West Surprise, no less than seven developments are in various stages of construction or planning.

And there is what is left of Truman Ranch. James and his wife, Carol, live on the remaining 15 acres of the ranch and plan to stay.

“We are going to keep that 15 acres. My wife and I will stay here and maintain that as the you-pick citrus farm,” Mr. Truman said.

He retired in 2009 after 21 years as the farm manager of the University of Arizona Citrus Agriculture Center in Waddell.

Mr. Truman also said for years he has been a proponent of trying to prevent light pollution in Surprise.

But there is an air of inevitability as Surprise goes through a second housing boom cycle. The Trumans sold a 41-acre parcel to Canadian home builder Mattamy several weeks ago for $5.5 million, according to an article by Cision.

That development is planned to be more upscale than Promenade, though Mr. Truman said the quality of the designs for Promenade’s complex was higher than he expected.

His primary concern is having that many people nearby with little to do, particularly teens and younger kids. He remembers talking with members of the Sands family growing up, and their stories of the destruction of part of their citrus crop at Manistee Ranch in Glendale.

“My biggest fear is a whole boatload of people right next to a citrus operation and sneaking over the fence at night,” Ms. Truman said.

The first Promenade community outreach meeting was May 13.

Mr. Truman was there, as were about 30 other people, he said. He said the meeting's tone was "civil."

"It seems most of the complaints had to do with issues of the high density: inadequate parking, increased traffic problems, building Heights, problems with tenants getting in and out of the project," Mr. Truman said. "They have agreed to a name change from Promenade to Waddell Crossing, which I had suggested to give their project a little bit more of a local, historic connotation."

Mr. Abrams said the city will remain engaged with the project, which would be, if approved, Dominium’s second development in Arizona.

“Yes, the interaction between the city, developer and residents is constant process throughout the review and continues through to the presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission,” Mr. Abrams stated.