By Mckayla Hull
About a hundred Gilbert residents attended the second public workshop regarding the Heritage District Redevelopment Plan on January 30. The plan proposes adding retail, offices, apartments or condominiums, and entertainment amenities to downtown Gilbert.
The workshop at the University Building in the Heritage District marked the first time a draft of the plan was shown to the public, according to Amanda Elliott, redevelopment administrator and Heritage District liaison.
Elliott said the design guidelines were updated to have more of a “Heritage-feel” for downtown, and address the biggest concern of how to move people through the district, with better plans for alleviating traffic.
Planners say one of the challenges when talking about the future of downtown is how to promote quality urban design with emphasis on the town’s historical character. The Heritage District is the community’s original town site.
The objective of the plan is to help the Gilbert Town Council prioritize goals for the next 10 years. The plan is expected to be reviewed by the council in the fall.
Don Arambula, project manager and lead planner/urban designer from Crandall Arambula, presented key development points, describing north and south anchors of the redevelopment plan and the district core, with each area having a distinct purpose.
The north anchor of the plan, which is between Juniper Avenue and the Western Canal, could have offices, a hotel, a conference area or multifamily housing, such as apartments or high-end condominiums, Arambula said.
It also would have a large area called the Commons, which would include a splash pad, a lawn area with a shade pavilion or trees, and restaurants and cafes with patios.
This area would also be the focus for nightlife, including dining and entertainment venues, Arambula explained.
The district core, or what Arambula called the “heart of the district,” located by the Western Canal, Vaughn Avenue and the Transit Center, would allow development such as office buildings. However, Arambula said the height of potential buildings may be increased as long as they don’t overshadow or block views of the Gilbert Water Tower.
This area would also have what planners called a “Living Room Plaza,” a place that would be ideal for community events, instead of the town having to use parking lots.
The Living Room Plaza would be an “Instagram-worthy” area, Arambula said, as it will be an area for farmers’ markets, concerts and other amenities.
Because residents voiced concerns about traffic congestion, the plan also includes a roadway, called the “Vaughn Ventilator,” that would allow west access into the district, relieving traffic from Gilbert Road. The roadway would not cross the railroad tracks, but instead go along the edge of it and Neely Traditional Academy to connect up to Guadalupe Road, Arambula said. The area would also include a retail street with lots of shade.
A neighborhood park would be located east of Gilbert Road. A family-oriented space would have play structures and green areas that create an intimate feel.
The south anchor of the redevelopment plan could include a grocery store or market, such as Trader Joe’s, on the corner of Gilbert and Elliot roads, Arambula said. It would also have a parking structure and retail space with offices above.
A pedestrian and bicycle path would run through the whole district. It would be a parallel route to Gilbert Road, extending from Elliot Road through the district up to the north, past the canal and maybe up Juniper Avenue .
Some attending the public workshop emphasized that the final plan must keep in mind the character of Gilbert and include elements that will preserve the small town feel of Gilbert.
Others voiced concerns. For example, Gilbert resident Christine Accurso said the plan isn’t focused enough on Gilbert families.
Elliott said, “The project is still in conceptual phase. No decisions have been made to date. We are still seeking public input as we work on refining the fundamental concept.”
She also said the goal is to get the update draft completed by June 30, with the Gilbert Town Council reviewing it in September or October.
And she emphasized there is still time for the public to weigh in on the plans.
The next Public Workshop will be Tuesday, April 3 at 6:30 p.m. at the University Building, 92 W. Vaughn Avenue. For more information and to review the presentation from the second public workshop, go to gilbert.gov/HDUpdate.