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Surprise council overrides planners’ vote on apartments

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While the Surprise Planning & Zoning Commission recommended against an amendment that would place apartments just north of Willow Canyon High School by a 5-1 margin May 19, the team involved with the project decided to push on to the city council.

Scott Phillips, vice president of land owner Carefree Partners, said he and the other parties involved with the project believed in the proposed decrease from 8 acres of commercial to 3.9 acres. And they believed in the Trammell Crow multifamily proposal.

“I think the idea was go back to fundamentals and describe why this was the right project for this area,” Phillips said during a June 23 interview. “We can address the concerns in a better way with a more detailed presentation.”

The decision paid off as the Surprise City Council approved the planned-area development amendment by a 6-1 vote, with councilman Patrick Duffy against the change. That drops the commercial acreage and moves it along Bell Road instead of splitting the entire parcel in half and having the commercial properties head south to where it is across the street from Willow Canyon.

The resulting additional residential space at what will be called Allora adds 135 units for a total of 351 on 16.84 acres. The rentals’ maximum height is raised to 42 feet.

Taylor Earl with the Phoenix-based law firm of Earl & Curley PC said young professionals are the primary target demographic for the development, with the apartment plan breaking down to 63.2% one-bedroom, 33.3% two-bedroom and 3.4% three-bedroom units.

“One reason I’m for it is the availability of multifamily homes, which are often not available. My greatest hope, though, is that commercial will become a restaurant,” said councilman Roland Winters, who represents a the area of the development. “In the interest of transparency, I’m an Arizona Traditions resident and a lot of my neighbors are against it. One thing you have going for you is Arizona Traditions has no restaurant.”

Phillips suggested surveying neighbors for restaurants they want.

Surprise Community Development Director Chris Boyd stated in an email the most recent example of the council going in the opposite direction of a planning commission recommendation was a major zoning amendment to the Greer Ranch planned-area development to change the land-use designation of a parcel from commercial to residential high density.

The item was before planning and zoning on March 17 and passed with a 4-3 vote to recommend approval.

Then on April 19 the City Council heard the item and denied it on a 5-0 vote.
Eight Surprise residents spoke and seven identified themselves as residents of the Arizona Traditions active-adult community north of Bell Road during the May 19 planning meeting.

Phillips said this fits with Valley-wide trends in the last year-plus, as multifamily apartment and small rental home properties collect opposition.

“There’s been a much larger pushback in the past year or so, particularly on multifamily proposals,” he said.

Resident Chris Alejandro said June 21 he was less concerned by this project than two others but pointed out likely Citrus Road, Surprise Farms Loop and Bell Road traffic backups exacerbated by this project.

“Citrus has one lane going north and south. Surprise Farms drive has one lane east and one west. Can we please look at this?” Alejandro said. “Let’s take a look at this traffic. If we talk about resort living, granite counter tops and pools, is that going to be affordable living. Or are we going to have assurances that these rentals are not going to go above a certain amount? One-bedroom apartments are 60% or so and it looks like it will be planned for young professionals. We need to consider what Bell is going to be in the next few years. It’s already bad.”

Also during the council meeting, Kristin Hayward, who said she lives in Surprise Farms near the development, urged its approval.

She said most people against this lived north of Bell Road and would not be as impacted by the traffic.

“I support this proposal for several reasons. Resizing the commercial parcel will help significantly with traffic. I drive by the site multiple times a day and I’m very familiar with the school traffic. Mixing commercial, residential and school traffic could be a big problem for those that live in that area.”

This is the last parcel of Surprise Farms South master plan.

Retail surveys by Elliott D. Pollack & Co., last updated in May, indicate the Surprise retail market is excessively oversupplied based on future demand.

Based on population growth forecasts, the Surprise area needs 511,775 square feet of retail through 2055. The area has 3.3 million square feet of available or potential retail space.

“An expected demographic might be young professionals. You could see people from Luke Air Force Base. Probably a few young families, but we don’t have a lot of three-bedroom units you tend to see families go into,” Earl said.

Also, the proposed 8 acres of commercial land would not have been on a double arterial or off a freeway, where more of the big-box stores landed in Surprise.

Earl showed parcels with similar dimensions of the 3.9 acres, including 43rd Avenue and Bell Road and 16th Street and Glendale, both in Phoenix.

Closer by is a corner Bell and Litchfield roads, with Rio Mirage Cafe, Irish Wolfhound, a Verizon store and a dental office. It is only slightly bigger at 4.03 acres.

Council members Duffy and Chris Judd said as a guiding principle, they hate giving up commercial space. That aligned with planning commissioners’ concerns.

“High-density residential by a school is good as well. But at the expense of commercial, especially on Bell Road, is not the way this city needs to go,” commissioner Kevin Sartor said May 19.

Earl said the majority of the traffic from the apartments will tend to head east on Bell for employment or destinations.

“This was created in 1995, which was a different commercial market,” Earl said.

Phillips said Carefree Partners always envisioned apartments at the site. Market conditions, he said, made it a necessity to right size the commercial area so it’s quality.

A potential large-scale commercial development went by the wayside around the turn of the century when the need to carve land out for a high school — now Willow Canyon — was realized.

“That changed the dynamic dramatically,” Phillips said.

Surprise City Council, Arizona Traditions, Surprise Farms, Willow Canyon High School, Elliott D. Pollack & Co., Patrick Duffy, Trammell Crow, Carefree Partners, Scott Phillips

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