High profile JDM project in Litchfield Park meets opposition

Litchfield Park Mayor Thomas Schoaf and City Manager Bill Stephens are working with JDM Partners to bring a mixed-use project to the northwest corner of Litchfield Road and Wigwam Boulevard. [Philip Haldiman/Independent Newsmedia]

By Philip Haldiman
Independent Newsmedia

A high profile mixed-use project at the northwest corner of Litchfield Road and Wigwam Boulevard is working its way through the city’s planning process, but has drawn push-back from some residents over a proposed increase in multi-family residential, which would significantly reduce commercial potential.

The 15-acre property is designated for residential and retail development for small shops anchored by similar uses, and a minimum requirement of 75,000 square feet of commercial.

However, owner JDM Partners, who also owns the Wigwam resort, has requested part of the agreement be deleted to allow for as much as 80 percent less commercial to be replaced by as much as 50 percent more residential.

The city council recently tabled this request to hear later in the year.

Planning Consultant Jason Sanks said removing that part of the agreement would change how the land is used.

“It more or less opens up the property to more residential,” Mr. Sanks said.

JDM stated there is little interest in developing commercial on the property, arguing it is more appropriate for 15,000 square feet of commercial and 312  multi-family residential units instead of the proposed 150 residential  units.

Some residents have opposed the new proposal for reasons ranging from its density and three-story proposed height to increased traffic.

Vice Mayor Paul Faith said JDM believes they will have a quicker and greater return with more residential.

“They are proposing to squeeze more units on 15 acres,” he said. “That does not conform residents’ desire for a small town atmosphere.”

The city does not have a property tax and its  main sources of revenue are sales tax and state shared revenue. And with the city nearing build-out, some residents contend the need for more commercial has become greater.

Resident Frank Cuomo said reducing commercial from the JDM project will drive down revenue even further.

“I really think we need more commercial to generate more revenue,” Mr. Cuomo said. “When you do big projects, you have to look at it from every angle, and if we really want to keep Litchfield Park vibrant, at some point we need to stand our ground.”

Evolving plan

A study performed in 2014 found that about 85,860 square feet of commercial was viable for the JDM-owned land, according a city report. Initially, JDM and the city compromised with a minimum of 75,000 square feet, and later stated 15,000 square feet was more viable.

Resident Kyle Addington opposes the new proposal which he said would put an apartment complex at Litchfield and Wigwam. He said the city should stick with the council-approved zoning change in 2014 or another plan that better fits and compliments the area.

The property is part of the overall Village at Litchfield Park Planned Development.

“I do not want another 600 cars added to this intersection in the middle of three school zones. The rental tax it would generate is not worth the quality of life disruption for current homeowners in the Village at Litchfield Park,” Mr. Addington stated in an email to the city.

Councilman Peter Mahoney said more commercial and residential will bring more traffic, but first more density is needed to attract desirable businesses that residents want, like Trader Joe’s, which needs more than 100,000 vehicles a day in traffic to be successful.

“We still don’t have that,” he said. “We need more density to make downtown successful, and investors won’t come unless we have that density. They need to feel confident if they are going to put millions of dollars into a business.”

JDM submitted a General Plan Amendment, July 2, and later filed an application, Sept. 26, to rezone the property from neighborhood commercial to multi-family housing and commercial.

The city is now waiting for the rezoning case to catch up with the GPA so that council can hear them at the same time.

Lawyer Paul Gilbert, who represents JDM, said the cases should be reviewed together.

“We want to look at both cases concurrently. Bottom line, we think that this is an excellent idea,”  Mr. Gilbert said. “Overall, the purpose of the general plan amendment is to remove the 75,000 square feet of commercial (from the text). That is the heart and soul of the request. But we also don’t want to hear (the cases) in a vacuum.”

Another piece

In addition to the JDM project, plans for the downtown area include the 30-acre City Center project, at the northeast corner of Litchfield Road and Wigwam Boulevard adjacent to city hall.

The city has plans for specialty stores, restaurants and a park to feature festivals and events — a walkable community gathering place serving as a centerpiece for the city.

Mayor Thomas Schoaf said City Center is still in development, but the two projects are very much intertwined.

The JDM property and city-owned City Center property are tied together by two pedestrian underpasses linked to the Village housing community.

Mr. Shoaf said combining all elements of the City Center, it becomes consistent with what residents want — a walkable, small town environment.

“The properties are linked, and we want them to be,” he said. “If we can integrate all those elements, we can use  the park as our anchor. Instead of a department store, the draw is the park, so it becomes consistent with what we are doing here and throughout the rest of Litchfield Park. That’s who we are, and if we pluck down a development that isn’t consistent with what the city is and where it is trying to go, it’s not helpful.”

Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697 or phaldiman@newszap.com. Visit yourvalley.net.

 

Timeline
July 2: GPA app submitted
July 10: Presented to planning and zoning commission
Aug. 15: Presented to city council
Sept. 26: Rezoning application submitted; GPA applicant citizen review
Oct. 9: Planning and zoning study session and comments
Nov. 5: Rezoning applicant citizen review
Nov. 13: Planning and zoning commission rejects GPA
Dec. 19: City Council tabled GPA



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