A vacant lot at Cactus and Reems roads is finally getting development — but it’s not what was originally intended for it.
The City Council voted Jan. 7 to rezone about 15 acres of commercial land in the southwest corner of the intersection to residential home.
More specifically, Vita Communities is bringing more rental homes to Surprise, instead of the original plans for a shoping center or even a gas station at the intersection.
The approval calls for 149 rental units, mostly studios and one-bedroom homes over 15 acres. It also incudes parking for 270 cars.
Despite heavy opposition last spring, including from Councilman Patrick Duffy, who serves the area, the corner will become one-story rental homes, instead of retail stores.
Mr. Duffy and District 6 Councilman Chris Judd were the only ones to vote against it.
The Council also approved the final plat for the property Jan. 7, but for that Mr. Judd voted in favor with the rest of the Council — except Mr. Duffy, who rejected both.
The land’s owners told the Council they did everything they could to try to lure businesses to the area.
“We don’t sell land. We buy land to develop it,” said Kevin Parker, owner of Armstrong Development, which bought the land in 2005. “This is one of the rare occasions where we are selling this piece of property and the reason is we have been unsuccessful in trying to develop it.”
Mr. Parker said he spoke to representatives from Sprouts, Kroger foods and other larger box retailers with no bites over the years.
“In our opinion, [homes are] the only thing that can go here,” Mr. Parker told the City Council.
Greer Ranch’s history goes back a couple decades now. It was zoned for commercial use as part of the Greer Ranch PAD in 2002. However, it wasn’t another seven years until plans for something on it materialized.
CVS planned to build a pharmacy in 2009 in an area designated for 30,000 square feet of commercial buildings and 62,000 square feet of office condos.
But the retailer pulled out of the project thanks to the recession of the late 2000s and it remained vacant.
“[Commercial zoning] was very prudent at the time, but 18 years later, the consumer shopping patterns have changed drastically,” said Adam Ball, of Vita Communities. “What was a good plan in 2002 merits a second look in 2020.”
Mr. Ball said online shopping changed everything.
“If you were to see my house at Christmas time, I think the delivery man came to my house more than my teenage daughter did,” Mr. Ball joked to the Council.
Part of the problem with developing the area is geography. It’s in the southern part of Surprise, a mile north of where homes and the city limits ends on Peoria Avenue. It’s also east of the Loop 303 corridor, which is about to explode with the opening this year of Costco.
Still, Mr. Ball told the Council he believes there is an oversupply of commercial zoning in Surprise.
“I’ve heard, ‘Well, we just don’t want to give up on commercial in this area.’ And I understand the convenience of having shopping center nearby,” Mr. Ball said.
Dozens of residents turned out ot a pair of citizen outreach meetings held earlier in 2019.
Connie Bowers, a resident of Greer Ranch North for six years, told the Council that she’s worried about traffic from the homes.
“When Costco comes in and Toll Brothers and everybody else, that’s going to be horrendous,” Ms. Bowers said. “There’s so much more that’s going to be developed in this area. Why do you give up this corner?”
Greer Ranch resident Nick Bacon said the homes would make money for developers but believes his own home value would go down.
“They could care less if our homes go to crap,” Mr. Bacon said. “They could care less if we couldn’t sell our homes. As long as they get their buildings done and they get their money. And that’s all it’s about, the all mighty dollar.”
Shelly Stoddard, a real estate agent who addressed the Council, said home prices in the Greer Ranch area haven’t come close to their high of 2006, and she expects them to go down further with the approval of more housing on the square mile.
John Whalen, a Realtor who has lived in Surprise for a decade and in Greer Ranch the last 2-1/2 years, said he predicts a rental community won’t work on that corner.
“This type of community will have a negative impact on buyers and sellers — flat out,” Mr. Whalen said. “I’m already getting that pushback from people that are coming from out of state or to Luke Air Force Base.”
Councilman Ken Remley said he was once against rental unit type properties because of all the negative preconceptions about them. But Mr. Remley, who lives in Litchfield Manor across from the Christopher Todd rental community, said he has changed his mind.
“I heard everybody else saying, ‘It’s going to bring a lot of riff raff. It’s going to bring a lot of traffic problems,’” Mr. Remley said. “Just the opposite has happened. There is not a traffic problem. Most of those folks that live in there are millennials.”
Mr. Duffy said it “doesn’t make any sense” for the city to “give up a corner” because more housing is planned for across Cactus Road. Prasada told Mr. Duffy it’s planning around 4,600 residential units on 531 acres in the area.
“If those 531 acres aren’t there, this is a different conversation,” Mr. Duffy said. ““I understand it’s been sitting there 18 years. But we’re young ... and now we’re just starting to go.”
Thanks to three outreach meetings in May and June, developers were able to help smooth over some of the concerns Greer Ranch residents have.
After neighbors complained about access from 156th Drive, the developers changed it to Cactus Road and added a bridge to Reems Road.
Mr. Ball told the Council a housing development would bring about a quarter of the traffic that the CVS was projected to bring a decade ago.Under the CVS proposal, 4,241 weekly trips were estimated in 2009. Under the residential plan, Mr. Ball said it would be just under 1,100 weekly trips.
He also noted for those who favored a gas station with a coffee-drive through business on the corner, those could bring up to 20,000 weekly trips.
Neighbors also showed concern about crammed school space at Sonoran Heights Elementary School, but apparently the Dysart Unfiied School District doesn’t think it will be an issue.
Sonoran Heights, which currently has about 850 students at 11405 N. Greer Ranch Parkway, is built to handle 1,100.
Because the type of housing considered for the area doesnt traditionally draw families with young childen, it’s not expected to overcrowd the school. Devleopers estimate only 3% to 5% of renters will have school-age children.
The Dysart Unified School District was convinced enough to send the City of Surprise a letter letting the city know that it can absorb the extra students if the city chose to approve housing units.
Mr. Judd asked for if the council had any protection in case the project fell through and another developer wanted to put in a traditional apartment complex. City Attorney Robert Wingo said a future developer would have to ask for an amendment to change it.
Still, Mr. Judd decided to vote against the zoning change.
The next step is the Planning and Zoning Department, which looked at the site plan at its meeting Jan. 16.
Editor’s note: Jason Stone can be reached at 623-445-2805, on email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @thestonecave. Visit yourvalley.net.