By Matt Roy
Some Surprise residents got their first glimpse at revitalization plans for the Original Town Site earlier this month.
Councilman Ken Remley hosted a presentation and discussion of the preliminary proposal at his District 4 community meeting Nov. 15 at the Villanueva Community Center, 15660 N Hollyhock St. He introduced the development partners at a meeting attended by more than 100 neighborhood homeowners.
“Since you folks gave input into what you’d like to see in your community and since the revitalization plan was adopted just about a year ago today, these folks have been working real hard on a proposal to incorporate a lot of those ideas,” Mr. Remley said. “That’s what they’re here tonight to present and it’s a pretty sweet-looking proposal,”
Redevelopment efforts began in 2015 during district community meetings with former Councilwoman Rachel Villanueva. Since then, city officials have conducted surveys and charrettes in the community to gather input and ideas for determine, according to Joshua Mike, a planner with the city’s Community Development Department.
“I’ve been part of this community during the entire Surprise Heritage District outreach,” he said. “We adopted the rezoning effort last summer, had the overlays put in place and we’ve had some successes since then.”
Top land use recommendations and concerns identified through the outreach included: visually attractive developments; small local businesses; better pedestrian lighting; more convenient pedestrian and vehicle access; after-school programs; parks and recreation activities; walkways and paths; public gathering spaces; and varied employment opportunities.
Mr. Mike said in June 2016, officials held public hearings to establish the Surprise Heritage District and properties in the OTS were rezoned under either the residential overlay or commercial overlay. The new guidelines allow for “cottage industry” home-based businesses in the OTS, which are not necessarily permitted elsewhere in the city, as well as farmer’s markets.
Some residential regulations were eased, while the restriction on manufactured homes was removed to allow some older properties in disrepair to be replaced. The rules also prevent new industrial or commercial development in the area in favor of pedestrian-friendly, community-oriented projects.
The rezoning effort has been a success so far, Mr. Mike explained, with the city seeing an increase in the pre-application meetings with developers interesting in pursuing projects in the community. City officials are also working with the Arizona Department of Transportation to come up with a plan to cover the drainage channel that runs along Grand Avenue at the south end of the development district, he said.
“We’ve been able to identify exactly how we can still meet those water movement requirements that the channel serves and moving forward to find funding so that, in addition to just burying that channel and making that a better plaza or walkway area,” Mr. Mike said. “Right now, we’ve been able to come to an agreement with ADOT because of the text we have in our Heritage District zoning.”
The proposed project area runs along Santa Fe Drive, the frontage of Grand Avenue, up to Rimrock Street between Nash and Hollyhock Streets. The area is comprised of 16.5 acres of commercially zoned land and 1.75 acres of residential land.
“While this effort we are going through, the Heritage District, was for the entire square mile of the OTS, you’ve got to start it in bites, start it in chunks, and this is the first chunk we’re going to be moving forward with,” Mr. Mike explained. “As we move through the Hollyhock Redevelopment Project, we really have an opportunity for a clean slate here … we want to make sure that we’re going to retain all of our existing services that are currently available here but increase how we provide those services.”
City officials are working with various agencies and firms in a public-private partnership for that “first chunk,” which is now called the Hollyhock Redevelopment Project.
The Housing Authority of Maricopa County and Gorman & Company, Inc. will partner on a grant-funded affordable housing component, while partners for the commercial element include Commercial Properties Inc. and Winslow + Partners Planning and Architecture.
Gloria Munoz, HAMC’s executive director, described preliminary plans affordable apartment homes, which would be located at the northwest corner of the project site, creating a buffer between future commercial developments to the south and Floyd Gaines Park to the north, which will be relocated to the vacant lot just north of its current location.
“What we are proposing as part of this whole development is a hundred units of affordable housing,” Ms. Munoz said. “We would be integrating it into a comprehensive site plan, which would include some of the retail and commercial aspects of this project. And we would be connecting our housing to the services of this community and hoping to add more services.”
Such additional service might include workforce connections, after-school programming and kids’ cafes, which have been components of her agency’s previous housing development projects, she explained.
“What we’re proposing is about a $21 million project,” Ms. Munoz said. “We’ve already got $4.8 million committed to this project and we have another $12 million committed, actually yesterday, from the Industrial Development Authority of Maricopa County to move forward in making this project a reality.”
The county’s housing agency has partnered with Gorman on projects over the past five years, including McKinley Lofts in the Roosevelt Historic District in downtown Phoenix and another community project in Avondale, which included affordable housing, as well as workforce development, kids’ café and STEM education programs.
Cecil Yates, director of property management at CPI and manages 11 million square feet of properties for the commercial developer. He is also a city councilman for the Town of Fountain Hills, a board member of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and served on former Councilwoman Villanueva’s economic development team since 2004, he said.
“We’ve got some great partners here that are very interested in this project,” Mr. Yates said. “And more importantly, it’s not government funded, this is private funded. This is a public-private partnership. There’s not tax overlay, there’s no bond that we’re going to go after. This is something that will revitalize a whole area.”
He described the concept for the commercial development as an urban village, which will include dining, shopping and gathering spaces to create an amenity not only for the neighborhood, but also a destination for the larger community to bring in business and drive revitalization of the OTS.
“An urban village is someplace you can go and hang out,” Mr. Yates said. “You can eat in a little café and then go walk home. You can park once and stay there all weekend if you’re a visitor.”
Kali Mota, a founding partner of Winslow + Partners, said her firm seeks out projects like the Hollyhock redevelopment to spur economic growth and improve local communities.
“This is the kind of project that will give us a lot of pride to be part of,” said Ms. Mota. “helping your community create something that’s special, that brings economic development, that creates jobs … that also incorporates what you already have. The Original Town Site has so much history, has so much value that has not been linked together. What we’re trying to do is get your feedback – how can we connect all these things that are already existing?”
She said designers would work to balance the needs of the community to create shared spaces and amenities while spurring the kinds of developments that bring in good jobs. The concepts presented at the meeting are only a starting point and community involvement will continue to drive the development.
“How do we put all those pieces together?” she asked. “What we have here tonight is only a placeholder. Nothing is set in stone. They are concepts and we are trying to get your feedback to move forward with this.”
During public comments, local residents added a variety of suggestions for the development, including a bridge crossing over Grand Avenue, a bigger library, a dog park and additional housing options.
Mr. Mike said city officials will host a stakeholder meeting in the OTS in January to present a draft concept and gather more community input.
Editor’s note: Matt Roy can be reached at 623-876-2528 or email@example.com. Visit www.yourvalley.net.
What do you think?
What kinds of businesses and development projects would you like to see included in the revitalization of the Original Town Site in Surprise?
E-mail your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org or post your comments to this story below..