By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
City leaders advanced development plans for the Original Town Site, while some residents raised objections to the proposal.
City Council unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement, funding agreement and ground lease between the city and the Housing Authority of Maricopa County at the panel’s Nov. 20 regular meeting at City Hall, 16000 N. Civic Center Plaza.
The approval paves the way to build a three-story, 100-unit apartment complex, which was unveiled as part of a revitalization plan first unveiled a year ago at the Nov. 15, 2017 District 4 community meeting at the Villanueva Community Center, 15660 N. Hollyhock St. (“Officials unveil project plans; Partners, residents discuss revitalization efforts for Original Town Site,” Surprise Today, Dec. 6, 2017).
Details about the $21 million apartment building project, as well as other proposed commercial developments in the area totaling an estimated $130 million investment, have been presented at a series of public meetings over the past year.
But a vocal cadre of OTS residents has raised concerns about the apartments and the city’s plan to relocate a baseball park as part of the redevelopment.
Former City Councilwoman Rachel Villanueva spoke on behalf of some residents who oppose the plan.
“My concern is our residents are a little unhappy about … moving [Floyd] Gaines Park, it means a lot to us,” Ms. Villanueva said. “I feel also concern about it. I’ve talked to a lot of members of the community. It’s hard for us to lose that park where it’s at.”
As part of the redevelopment proposal, the baseball field – the city’s first field – would be reconstructed just north of its current location, from the southeast corner to the northeast corner of Nash and Rimrock streets.
While Ms. Villanueva, a lifelong area resident, shares concerns about the move, she also wants to see revitalization in the OTS, she said.
“But I’ve also heard over the years … that nobody wants to do anything for the Original Town Site, everything goes to the new part of town. And it’s very hard to please everybody, because no we’re getting something in the Original Town Site and we’re still concerned,” Ms. Villanueva said.
Another longtime resident, Edward Needling, voiced opposition to moving the park and the apartment project’s potential road traffic impact.
“It’s history, it’s heartfelt,” Mr. Needling said. “Just to pick it up and move just to make room for an affordable housing complex, which if you drive a quarter-mile down the road you’ll see another affordable housing complex and just take a look at what they look like after four or five years … your adding more people in an area that isn’t designed for it.”
Lori Miller, who identified herself as the oldest granddaughter of Floyd Gaines, the former Town Council member for whom the park is named, has been another vocal critic of the plan.
“I grew up on Nash Street, I’ve lived there all my life or around there,” Ms. Miller said. “My grandpa put a lot of time into building that park for the community. He started the baseball league in Surprise. If the land was donated for a baseball park, why is it being torn down for apartments?”
She suggested because the original land donation specified park land use, the city could not legally change its use of the parcel, even if the plan will only move the park a few hundred feet north of its original site.
“To see something like this going up in the middle of town where the park is isn’t going to look right,” Mr. Miller said. “Moving that park and then wanting to rename the new park after my grandpa – my grandpa didn’t have nothing to do with the new land; my grandpa didn’t go out there and pick up the rocks … if it’s moved, I don’t even know why you should put his name on it.”
After the meeting, Surprise Community Development Director Eric Fitzer provided some context from the city’s perspective to explain the need to move the park and role of the affordable housing development in the area’s overall revitalization.
His comments are provided here in a question-and-answer format.
Q. From the city’s perspective, what was the purpose or value of moving the park, rather than building the Maricopa Housing Authority component to the north where the new park will be located?
A: This was a consideration when we first started working with the Housing Authority on the project. The main issues that staff and the Housing Authority saw was introducing a cozy multi-story project into the Surprise Heritage District Neighborhood Overlay … In this case, after review, it was determined that introducing the project into the neighborhood overlay would not be in concert with what the residents in the area communicated through the public process with staff.
The project fit much better in the commercial overlay district and buffering the cozier housing from the neighborhood with the relocation of the ball field was more in tune with what the community communicated with staff through the Heritage District outreach process.
Q: How does the park move, the affordable apartments and the overall redevelopment proposal fit with the city’s Heritage District overlay?
A: Heritage is an important development consideration in this area, which is why we implemented a Heritage District overlay. The goal of the overlay is to preserve the area’s historical character and unique sense of place, while supporting revitalization.
The new development supports efforts to revitalize the city’s Original Town Site and helps with the need for affordable housing options. Because it was important to also preserve the park space for the community, we worked to balance the desire to preserve heritage and the opportunity for new growth. That’s why we decided to keep some of the park amenities in place, such as the playground and ramadas, and relocate the ball field across the street.
Q: Has the city identified the OTS as an area in need of revitalization? What were some of the considerations or criteria involved in that consideration?
A: The Heritage District Overlay, adopted in 2016, further implements and advances the existing OTS Revitalization Plan that was adopted by City Council in 2002. The city collaborated with residents through presentations, interactive workshops and visual surveys to gather input and draft the ordinance.
Community involvement was very important to the process because we wanted the overlay to accurately capture what OTS residents wanted development in their area to look like.
Q: What kinds of costs would taxpayers have to bear for revitalization if the cost were not borne by private investment?
A: The revitalization and preservation of the OTS has been a council goal for many years. Staff is working with private investors, public agencies and the like in order to bring in outside investment into the Heritage District. The Housing Authority project is a great example of this.
This is truly a public-private partnership, which utilizes federal funding and private investment to develop the Heritage at Surprise project – a $20 million outside investment in the OTS. The city’s contribution is the land. The land for the housing was already owned by the city. In order to move the ball field, the city purchased three properties on the north side of Rimrock.
Q: Does the city feel moving the park diminishes its value to the area’s heritage?
A: Let’s be clear, the overall Gaines Park has two components – the ball field on the north side, and the south side of the Gaines Park area which includes play space, green space, ramadas and bathrooms. The goal in the future is to maintain as much of the park, and more specifically the gathering space, as possible, preserving the heritage location while allowing for revitalization.
Q: What kinds of amenities are slated for the new park?
A: The ball field and parking will move across the street to the new site and carry the Gaines Park name, and the ball field will be lighted. The multi-purpose field, playground, ramadas and restrooms will remain in their current location.
Vice Mayor Remley, whose council district includes the OTS, said the Maricopa Housing Authority will likely break ground on the apartment complex later this month.