The town’s 2020 General Plan goes before voters for approval—as required by state law—as part of the Aug. 4 primary election ballot, along with elections for mayor and two Town Council seats.
While a General Plan may seem less important than who the town’s leaders are, those elected will look to the General Plan with each decision they make.
“It is our blueprint for growth for the next 10 years to 30 years,” Gilbert Planning Division Manager Eva Cutro said.
In staff-prepared documents for council, each action for consideration refers back to how that particular issue ties to a General Plan goal.
The plan itself covers 17 categories, from land use to conservation,recreation and safety.
Gilbert planners said the General Plan ties all those categories together in three elements: community, opportunity and connectivity. Residents can view the plan at www.gilbertaz.gov/generalplan.
Gilbert anticipates reaching full build-out in about 2030. If that holds true, Gilbert will reach or be near that stage when the next General Plan is up for adoption, making this one the last effectual guidance on how the town should proceed in the final years of build-out.
Staying the course
This plan is meant to build on the previous General Plan from 2012; it will not represent a change of course.
“It’s not like there was a huge change in direction or content of those policies,” Gilbert Principal Planner Catherine Lorbeer said. “We really took what there was and just tried to make it more usable. We didn’t introduce any new themes or concepts. We’re still feel that Gilbert’s on the on the right path.”
Beyond the plan’s presentation, one change from the previous plan is acknowledgment of the Northwest Employment Corridor as a growth area to recognize ongoing redevelopment efforts.
The other is an attempt to simplify the land use code by combining and thus reducing the number of use classifications.
Also noteworthy was an item about agricultural land use from the town’s 2018 community assessment, which was conducted at the start of the update process.
It read, “Given the General Plan land use plan is a snapshot of Gilbert at build-out, the most notable change is the redistribution of vacant and agricultural lands into alternative land use types.”
While no large agricultural plots may remain at that time, measures to preserve the town’s agricultural heritage are included in the plan.
Agricultural uses still will be permitted in low-density residential areas. The plan includes goals and policies to encourage small agriculture, particularly in the character areas of Santan to the south and Morrison Ranch to the east.
The town made a large online and social media push to get resident input into the plan. Officials made appearances at public meetings and events to gather feedback, even going to senior facilities.
Simplifying the land use classifications was one area that raised concerns. Resident David Kurnik put up a website with data and maps and commented in popular social media groups to rally support.
At the crux of his concerns, Kurnik said, was that combining some of the residential land use classifications would lead to higher densities in Gilbert.
Beyond allowing some higher densities in areas, Kurnik said developers sometimes ask for small changes to move zoning into one-step higher classifications and that council has been inclined to defer to landowners on these small changes.
However, Kurnik pointed out that a one-step change made under the new classifications could be what is now a three-step change in classification, accelerating the opportunity for higher-density developments to take hold and leading to more congestion and greater urban heat island effects.
Ultimately, though, planners said that in response to resident concerns, they will keep residential classifications as they are. Some commercial land uses have been combined.
“I’m very satisfied with the outcome,” Kurnik said. “They were very responsive. They were very professional. They gave me an awful lot of their time and energy, and ultimately, they listened to what we were saying. I’ve got no complaints with the process.”
The plan is about to hit its home stretch.
After a second Planning Commission hearing Jan. 22, which came after this edition of Community Impact Newspaper went to press, the plan will go before Town Council for approval, likely at the Feb. 4 meeting.
At that point, the town, by law, must let the voters decide whether to approve the plan. Town officials will not be able to advocate for it.
“Once it goes out for vote, we really can’t endorse [it] any longer,” Development Services Director Kyle Mieras said. “There’s kind of a section where we have to just sit back, and we can provide information and facts, but we can’t endorse the plan.”
At that point, Mieras said, the plan will be in the voters’ hands as they vote in the Aug. 4 election.