By wayne schutsky
GSN Managing Editor
Just months after the controversial City Gate apartment development fell apart in Gilbert due to resident backlash, the Town Council will consider approving another contested apartment project.
This time around, however, the residents opposed to the project live in neighboring Chandler.
The 356-unit complex, called Liv at Gilbert Crossroads, is planned for 19.6 acres of a 47-acre site at Germann Road and Mustang Drive in northeast Gilbert.
An associated 300,000-square-foot light industrial development featuring four buildings is planned for the remainder of the land to the north of the apartment complex facing Germann road.
The land owner, global developer Rockefeller Group, is seeking to rezone the land to accommodate the industrial and apartment uses.
The parcel is currently zoned business park, which typically allows for office campuses featuring high technology, research and development, office, service and light industrial uses, according to town documents.
Both Gilbert Town Planning staff and the Planning Commission issued recommendations for approval of the rezoning applications. The developer’s rezoning applications will go before the Town Council at its next regular meeting on Aug. 2.
Liv at Gilbert Crossroads differs from the failed City Gate project because the landowner is seeking to rezone the area for apartment or multifamily use. In the Crossroads case, the developer sought a conditional use permit in a commercial district.
The cases also differ because the residents opposed to the Liv project live outside Gilbert.
Gilbert Senior Planner Nathan Williams said that town staff considers all complaints equally regardless of a person’s city or town of residence.
“If they were Gilbert residents, we would have made the same recommendation,” he said.
At the Gilbert Planning Commission’s June meeting, several Chandler residents showed up to voice their opposition to the development. The project borders a residential community that is within Chandler city limits.
While one resident opposed the industrial portion of the project, the vast majority of the complaints centered on the apartment complex.
Neil Taneja said he was worried about the impact a densely populated apartment complex would have on traffic in the area. He said the neighborhood is already restricted by Chandler Airport to the west and a canal to the east.
“It is unbelievably packed,” he told the Planning Commission. “I can’t believe you would add something so dense blocks away from a super-busy intersection.”
Gilbert’s most recent Capital Improvement Plan does include nearly $21 million for improvements along Germann Road from Gilbert Road to Val Vista Drive.
Chandler resident Ginger Rowley, who lives in the housing community south of the proposed development, complained that it would “change the dynamic” of the neighborhood.
“In the presentation, it seems like they are more concerned about the apartment complex and the light industrial (project) than the people that are actually (living) there,” she said.
Pat Ziembowicz, also of Chandler, echoed Rowley’s sentiments. She said she and her husband purchased their home in Chandler for retirement over three years ago and looked at zoning on vacant properties nearby before making a decision on where to move.
“Everything was zoned (business park), which we were fine with,” she said. “Had it been zoned for multifamily, we would have never bought our retirement home here.”
Attorney Ed Bull of Burch & Cracchiolo, who represented Rockefeller Group, told the commission that the land was simply not viable for a business park.
He said the landowner has tried to develop the property as a business park for 10 years with no success. He said land sales fell through in 2015 and 2016 as well.
Bull argued that the site was too large to develop as single-use and that multifamily use complemented the light industrial use. He said it also provided a buffer between the industrial property and the adjacent residential neighborhood.
He said the portion of the property that would receive light industrial zoning is already in escrow to be sold to EastGroup, a national industrial property developer, and that the success of the industrial site was dependent on the approval of the apartment complex.
Gilbert’s planning staff agreed with the developer and recommended approval of the rezoning requests.
“I think we agree with that analysis by the developer that the size and shape of the parcel may be suitable for a change in use,” Williams said.
Market trends in the East Valley give a clear indication as to why the land owner would like to reserve a portion of the property for an apartment complex.
Quite simply, the multifamily market in the area, especially Gilbert, is booming.
A report from Apartment List indicates that rents in Gilbert have risen 1.4 percent since June and 7 percent since this time last year. That year-over-year growth is well above the state average of 2.4 percent.
Gilbert’s median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is the highest of any city in the Valley at $1,450.
The southeast Gilbert submarket is one of the strongest markets for rent growth in the Valley and has attracted many newer, expensive units recently, according to Colliers International’s Research and Forecast Report for the multifamily market in Greater Phoenix for the first quarter of 2018.
Williams said the Town’s General Plan is a good guide for the type of uses that the town would like to see in the area.
In a report developed for the commission, he noted that the area is designated as a growth area by the General Plan that has a “primary focus on general office, business park and industrial uses.”
The report acknowledged that the apartment use would deviate from that plan.
However, it stated that the apartment complex would provide needed a needed housing complement for existing and planned commercial development along Loop 202 from Gilbert Road to Val Vista Drive.