A process started in 2020 to update the area plan, which serves as a guiding force for City Council and the planning and zoning commission as developers bring plans for that 9-square-mile area to the city. Updating the document—which was last updated in 1998—is expected to be complete in the next several months. It will be brought before City Council for a vote in October, but the council was briefed on the plan during a work session in August.
Council Member OD Harris, who also serves on the city’s airport commission, said the city must have a “clear and refined” vision for the Airpark Area employment corridor as the city continues to near build-out—less than 10% of Chandler’s overall vacant land remains.
“[We need a] development community that embraces that vision and can adjust and respond to the changing dynamics of employment in the future,” Harris said. “High-tech, innovative technologies and aeronautical industry-related users will represent the focus of that growth.”
The Chandler Airpark Area encompasses 9 square miles surrounding the Chandler Municipal Airport. It includes land beyond the gates of the airport, but not the airport itself.
"It’s the final frontier; it has the largest uncommitted and vacant land for future employment development,” Chandler Economic Development Director Micah Miranda said. “As Price Corridor fills up and builds out, which it has almost done, the Airpark Area will be the largest land mass available for employment.”
The Airpark Area is the city’s fourth-largest employment corridor with more than 10,000 jobs and 320 businesses as of 2019, the latest data available, according to Miranda. More development in the area is on the horizon, Miranda said.
Around 900,000 square feet of industrial development was completed in 2020, according to a rough draft of the Airpark Area plan update. More than 2.5 million square feet for office, industrial and commercial projects have been recently approved in the area, according to the plan.
“Currently, there’s quite a bit of development in the employment corridor, and part of that Airpark Area plan, at least from an economic development perspective, clearly articulates the types of employment we are looking to have within that employment corridor,” Miranda said.
Planning for the future
The area plan update rough draft discussed by City Council in August suggests a majority of the available land in the Airpark Area is preserved for high-wage, high-intensity jobs. The plan also sets forth design guidelines—including guidelines for “Google campus”-type office developments that offer amenities such as restaurants or coffee shops and walking paths to employees.
Harris said these new areas of innovation are important to the growth of the airpark employment corridor.
“With the city of Chandler approaching [build-out] and less than 10% of available land left, it is important to maximize and capitalize on these resources,” Harris said. “In Chandler we have a saying: ‘Employment drives growth.’ The Airpark Area plan update creates a new land-use category, innovation, which encourages collaborative employment campuses that will provide the home for the employment of tomorrow.”
And while the Airpark Area plan deals with the land surrounding the Chandler Municipal Airport, it does suggest the construction of one or more hotels in the area might bolster the employment use of the general aviation airport. Currently, there are no hotels in the area.
The airport master plan was updated in April and called for a potential expansion of the south runway by 680 feet from 4,870 feet to 5,550 feet. This improvement would allow the same size and type of aircraft currently using the airport in cooler months to use the airport year-round, according to the master plan.
Miranda said because Price Corridor—the city’s largest economic corridor anchored by Intel—is so close to build-out, the Airpark Area has become a “de facto Price Corridor,” attracting similar high-wage, high-skill jobs and developments. Miranda said the key for the city is to be selective in the kinds of projects that get approved in the area as land becomes limited.
Harris said building out the area around the airport is important to the viability of future employment and growth in the city.
“I think it’s going to send life that way and excitement that way, and also it’s an economic driver, so it’s going to boost everything around it,” Harris said Aug. 9 during a council work session.
City Council echoed his sentiment in its discussion Aug. 9.
“I’m just really excited to see the future of this area,” Vice Mayor Mark Stewart said. “I really think it’s going to be great.”
According to a draft of the master plan update, the number of jobs in the area is expected to more than double by 2055.
Chandler Planning Administrator Kevin Mayo said the Airpark Area was “slow to start” in terms of new developments compared to the city’s other employment areas.
“Two things affected its progress in the last 20 years,” Mayo said. “Before Loop 202 was expanded, it was only accessible by county arterial roads, and so with the arrival of Loop 202 in the first part of the decade, growth started. If everything was normal, you would have seen that area a lot further along. But very shortly after that, the Great Recession happened. It took four or five years for that segment of the market to rebound, and it’s only been in the last three or four years, before the coronavirus, that growth was happening.”
Mayo said the area is seeing a lot of office and flexible industrial space requests and a surge in construction of those projects in spite of the pandemic. Five office projects have been approved and are in various stages of development, including the Watermark at Chandler Airpark development.
“There is quite a bit of vacant land already zoned and planned; we are just waiting for the market to get there and are even starting to see some of that built,” Mayo said. “Out of 9 square miles, 700 [vacant acres] is not really a whole lot of property.”
The area plan update builds in a zoning mechanism to protect certain available lands from residential uses, according to the plan. As of August, 14 developments had been approved, and some were under construction—all of which were commercial, industrial or office uses, according to the plan.
“I love the firewall against residential,” Mayor Kevin Hartke said during the Aug. 9 meeting. “That will be a big asset for our staff and for us. I can’t think of a piece of ground in Chandler yet that we haven’t been told that the only thing that can go there is residential or apartments. I think the firewall is excellent there. ... This makes it clear, and I think it holds our wishes and previous councils’ wishes and says we are after employment, and this is one of our best, last employment areas to be developed.”
Miranda said using the updated master plan as a guiding document, his team and ultimately City Council will be responsible for making sure the uses of that land go toward the industries that will best serve the area.
“We have to be willing to say no to those projects that don’t align with the long-term economic development plan for that area,” Miranda said. “We are retaining what has been designated for employment and making sure it remains employment instead of flipping to residential. Then we have to make sure it’s the right type of employment.”