Gilbert Town Council approves apartment project despite neighbors’ objections

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The Gilbert Town Council unanimously approved a minor General Plan amendment Sept. 19 that will allow an apartment complex to be built in the Cooley Station despite objections from neighbors.

The Gilbert Planning Commission previously unanimously approved the plan to change the zoning from village center to multifamily residential medium density with a planned area development overlay. The Town Council voted 5-0 to approve the change with Council Member Aimee Yentes absent and Council Member Jordan Ray, who had been present for the meeting by phone, not giving a voice vote.

A group of neighbors to the planned complex from the Fincher Fields at Cooley Station homeowners association said they felt developers had been “disingenuous” about plans for the land.

“We are vested in this community,” Ariel Jeter said. “We’ve built in this community with the vision that this was going to be a town center open and available. We were given color plot maps, for lack of a better term … of what was promised to us was going to be directly in front of our homes. If we had been told three-story apartment buildings were going to be directly in front of our homes, we never would have purchased there.”

Among the objections put forward were a lack of a fence or gate between the complex and the homes, shared driveway space, traffic issues and the negative effect on home values.

Greg Davis, who represented the Gieszi family who owns the property, said neighborhood meetings at the beginning of the project did show a more traditional apartment complex with gates and fences. However, town staff later asked for the changes to promote the Gateway Village area’s walkability and connectedness, as well as for traffic safety.

He also noted current zoning standards allow the ownership to build up to six stories with higher density by right.

Council members in their comments talked about the history of what the town has sought for the area and how difficult it has been to get that vision to come to fruition until now.

Mayor Jenn Daniels told the neighbors if the longtime plans for the area had not been properly communicated to them, “that was unfair to you.”

“I am sorry if that was the message that was communicated, but I have looked at these plans for 10 years now, and it’s always been designed for a high-density product along that corridor, and so I do think we are honoring that through this project,” Daniels said. “And I also am very excited about some of the retail options that you are going to be getting in this area that will make a difference and that will increase your property values as well.”

Council members urged neighbors to stay involved in the design process as it goes through town, where some of their concerns can be addressed.

Transit issues

In other items, Development Services Director Kyle Mieras and Transportation Planner Nichole McCarty presented to council about transit issues in town, noting the rising costs and decreased funding, particularly for Americans with Disabilities Act-certified riders.

The town has two programs for ADA riders: Paratransit, which is mandated by federal law, and RideChoice, which is not mandated. McCarty compared it to Uber and Lyft.

Paratransit is required to be maintained within three-fourths of a mile of existing fixed routes for buses, but Gilbert offers it throughout the town.

However, Paratransit services are more expensive to the town, McCarty said. She asked the council for permission for staff to explore rolling back Paratransit to only federally mandated areas. Mesa and Maricopa County have made similar moves recently. No vote was taken, but council gave direction for staff to do so.

Other business

• Plan Review and Inspection Manager Larry Taylor from the Gilbert Development Services Department reviewed for council planned changes to the town’s building and fire codes. The town is looking to simplify the code while maintaining safety levels. The changes will be up for vote in November and would take effect Jan. 1 if adopted.

• Council unanimously rejected a $6.5 million bid from Artis U.S. Holdings II to purchase 36.66 acres of land at the northeast corner of East Germann Road and South Mustang Drive. Council members gave no reasons. However, the land, which was originally slated to be the site of the Public Safety Training Facility, was appraised for nearly $9.4 million, according to town documents, with proceeds from the sale being put into the construction of the facility. The facility is now being built on 50 acres near the northwest corner of Power and Pecos roads.

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Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.
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