By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor

A church’s plan to sell land to a developer to build 52 single-family homes has residents from the three surrounding neighborhoods up in arms.

The 11-acres of infill property is located on the south side of Madera Parc Drive, east of Cooper Road, next to the First United Methodist Church.

“It’s not compliant with our neighborhood,” said resident Karen Friedl. “They’re putting a little slum into our beautiful neighborhood. I’ve seen their product in Gilbert, it’s nothing like our homes. Would you like something like this in your neighborhood, would you?”

Friedl was one of nearly two dozen residents who showed up last week in opposition of the proposed Enclave at Madera Parc hearing before the Planning Commission.

They contended that it was too dense; that homes would impact the storm-water retention, causing flooding, loss of open space; and that it would generate more traffic to the Candlewood, Lago Estancia and Madera Parc neighborhoods. The town also received a petition with 83 signatures of residents opposed to the project.

The subject site is currently part of the Candlewood and Madera Parc communities and was originally planned to serve as a school site, retention and open space for them, according to town planners.

The school was never built, but the open space and retention were developed with the two subdivisions draining into the site.

The applicant is seeking to separate the land from the Madera Parc and Candlewood communities and develop the land between Madera Parc Drive and Smoke Tree Road with its own zoning.

The site has development on all four sides and is oddly shaped with an unusual topography, according to land-use attorney Adam Baugh.

The church, which acquired the site from Gilbert Public Schools in the mid 1990s, has been losing membership and is looking to sell the land, Baugh said.

“This property will likely remain vacant much, much longer, perhaps forever,” he said.

The developer originally proposed building condos but went back to the drawing board after hearing from residents.

“We made significant changes to make the project compatible,” Baugh said.

He said the homes would sell for the high $200,000s to low $300,000s with 58 guest parking spaces so there is no spill over to surrounding neighborhoods.

Minimum lot area is proposed at 3,200 square feet with a maximum height of two stories.

According to planners, the applicant will be required to maintain the retention for the two subdivisions and for the proposed new development.

Residents voiced concerns with flooding in their neighborhoods with the addition of 52 more homes.

Alan Kranzberg, president of the Lago Estancia HOA Board, said no decision should be made until a water retention plan has been fully vetted.

He said he also would like to see larger lots and he spoke with his HOA’s management company, which expressed concerns a 52-home HOA could be successful in the long term and be able to maintain everything, including the retention.

He said his HOA representing 713 homes has adequate resources and questioned if the proposed smaller HOA would.

“I don’t believe a zoning change is appropriate,” he said.

Veronica Ross, president of the Candlewood HOA Board, also expressed concerns the retention can accommodate more homes. She said she has seen the retention filled to the top with water after a storm.

“There’re too many homes being built on an existing retention pond,” she said.

Janet Davis, a Madera Parc resident, said traffic is already bad and would be made worse with more homes.

The development’s primary entrance would be off of Madera Parc Drive. It would be ungated but have private roads and buffers surrounding the property.

Baugh said although a drainage report of the site generally takes place after zoning approval, town planners have been given an engineering study of the retention that meets or exceeds requirements.

The developer proposes to reduce the retention to 1.5 to 2 acres from the current 4 acres with a combination of underground and surface retention at the southwest portion of the site.

He also disputed the traffic concerns, saying the site was originally set aside for a school, which would have brought more vehicles in the area than the proposed development.

He added there are other smaller HOAs around the Valley, and a reserve study is done by the developer before turning over the HOA to homeowners to ensure there is money to cover expenses like the retention, private streets and lighting.

As for the density, he said he needed that in order to make the project work.

Commissioners thanked residents for their input and agreed with staff to recommend approval by a 4-0 vote.

Chairman Brian Andersen recused himself from the discussion because he was the architect who worked on the developer’s original plans for town homes and Commissioner Greg Froehlich had to leave for a prior engagement.

Vice Chairman Carl Bloomfield said the intent for a school is long gone, and he agreed that the church should have the chance to sell the property.

“If you want it to remain open, you have the chance to buy it and let it remain open,” he told residents.

Town Council will have final say when it is expected to hear the case on Dec. 6.