Divided Gilbert Town Council approves apartments replacing part of retail center

Gilbert Town Council
The Gilbert Town Council approved making a proposal to convert part of the Shoppes at Gilbert Commons to apartments. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Gilbert Town Council approved making a proposal to convert part of the Shoppes at Gilbert Commons to apartments. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Gilbert Town Council on March 24 approved converting part of a struggling retail plaza to apartments.

The proposal for the Shoppes at Gilbert Commons on the southwest corner of Baseline and Cooper roads sharply divided interested parties at the meeting, which was closed to public attendance. The public was allowed to listen in and comment through phone-in technology.

While the Gilbert Planning Commission unanimously approved it, plaza businesses supported it and several people also wrote in support, town staff recommended disapproval. The Gilbert Chamber of Commerce opposed it, and a neighborhood survey showed strong opposition. Most written correspondence to the council was in opposition.

In the end, council voted 5-2 to approve the changes for the 16-year-old center. Council Members Bill Spence and Scott Anderson voted in dissent.

The center includes big-box retailers Kohl’s, Old Navy, Ross Dress for Less and TJ Maxx, all of which front Baseline. However, the Cooper-facing portion of the plaza is nearly entirely vacant and has been for eight years.


Owner SyWest and developer P.B. Bell, which also manages multifamily properties, contended the eight years of vacancies were a market indication that commercial space would not work there.

The proposal is to rezone 47.99 acres of regional commercial to allow for multifamily housing, but 39.36 acres would remain untouched, and 8.63 acres would be converted to an apartment with 205 units. The end result would be a mixed-use development.

In the developer’s narrative document to the council, attorney Ralph Pew wrote the change would “inject a new sense of vitality to an established part of Gilbert. The Gilbert Commons multifamily development will bring about a high-quality residential use that will be of distinct design quality and that will complement and enhance the surrounding area by contributing to the diversity of housing options in the vicinity.”

At the council meeting, Pew argued the 205 apartment units would be filled with people who would shop in the area, increasing the viability of the remaining tenants at the Shoppes at Gilbert Commons and other plazas in the area.

However, in staff’s council communication document, Senior Planner Amy Temes wrote the overall proposal lacks the design elements needed to realize the mixed-use vision of the general plan.

A letter from the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce board of directors called making a decision in this case “precedent-setting,” as other cases of tearing down portions of retail centers to make way for multifamily housing could happen as retail models change.

“We have concluded that the end product as proposed does not deliver a multi-use development without issues that need to be resolved prior to approval,” the board wrote.

In communications to the council, nearby residents argued that the area had too many apartments already and that the town would be losing revenue by replacing commercial space with multifamily units. Traffic, safety and environmental concerns also were mentioned.

Residents also mentioned the development in the Northwest Corridor, which the town is studying for possible redevelopment, but those plans have yet to materialize. Questions about how this would fit with those plans were cited by Anderson in his vote against the proposal at this time.

But those members voting for the proposal cited the long time period with which the center has had vacancies despite a good economy. Council Member Jared Taylor said the center is unlikely to get tenants in the future due to the changing nature of retail in the face of e-commerce and now the coronavirus effect on businesses.

Mayor Jenn Daniels said she frequently opposes multifamily projects she found to be the wrong fit for an area but did not see that in this case. Daniels compared the project to Gilbert Town Square, which struggled in the early 2000s until a multifamily project was built there and brought new life to the center.

Comprehensive Annual Financial Report

Accounting Manager Tanya Wright presented the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, a detailed financial report of Gilbert’s funds, to the council.

Wright said the report received an unmodified audit opinion and has been submitted to the Government Finance Officers Association for a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, which Gilbert has received for the last 28 years.

“What it means ... is that data in our report is reliable,” Wright said.

Auditors from HeinfeldMeech found one deficiency, an error in the valuation of infrastructure assets contributed to the town by developers. The town did not use the correct square-footage area for pavement in calculating values for various street assets.

The result was an overstatement of infrastructure in the amount of $5 million. The town subsequently made corrections to its process and implemented additional review procedures, according to the auditor.

Other business

  • Spence was sworn in as the newest council member at the beginning of the meeting. He was appointed March 17 to replace Eddie Cook, who left to become the Maricopa County assessor.

  • Council voted 5-2 for an issuance of voter-approved bonds for the Public Safety Training Facility. Taylor and Aimee Yentes voted in dissent, with Taylor renewing his objections to the facility’s cost and the increased tax levy.

  • Council directed staff to allow homeowners to opt out of soil report requirements by use of a waiver. The action required no vote.

By 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.


MOST RECENT

Dulve Vida Coffee opens inside Gilbert's Tribe: House of Salons

Dulce Vida Coffee previously ran out of a trailer, which it still uses

Gilbert ambulance service
Gilbert committed to expansion of ambulance service through town

Town officials contend the change in 2021 from American Medical Response to a service run through the Gilbert Fire and Rescue Department will result in better, more consistent service throughout town at a lower cost to users without burdening taxpayers

The Chandler USD governing board met Sept. 23. (Alexa D'Angelo/Community Impact Newspaper)
Chandler USD board reviews proposed high school boundary changes ahead of opening of new high school

Take a look at the proposed secondary school boundary changes for Chandler USD.

Steelyard development coming to Chandler and more popular local news

Read popular Phoenix-area news from the past week.

Higley USD
Higley USD joins suit against e-cigarette manufacturer

The Higley USD governing board voted Sept. 23 to join a class-action lawsuit against the e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs charging deceptive marketing practices targeting children.

Verde at Cooley Station
Gilbert's Verde at Cooley Station announces 3 additional restaurants, bar

Verde at Cooley Station developers announced Sept. 23 three more restaurants and a bar will be coming to the development that is under construction at Williams Field and Recker roads.

Gilbert Public Schools campuses opened for full-time in-person instruction Sept. 21. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gilbert Public Schools officials explain return to campuses

Superintendnt Shane McCord said at the Sept. 22 governing board meeting that following two different dashboards created confusion about what the district was looking for in deciding it was safe to return.

Here is what you need to know today about coronavirus in Gilbert. (Community Impact Newspaper)
Coronavirus cases inch up in Gilbert, Chandler plus more local news

Read the latest news from Gilbert and Chandler.

Verde at Cooley Station
Three businesses coming to Verde at Cooley Station

Verde at Cooley Station developers have announced three more businesses coming to the development that is under construction at Williams Field and Recker roads

Here is what you need to know today about coronavirus in Gilbert. (Community Impact Newspaper)
COVID-19: Gilbert sees increase of 21 cases; county has increase of 248 cases and 16 deaths Sept. 25

Here is the data you need to know about the coronavirus in Gilbert and the rest of the state.

Chandler USD released its COVID-19 data dashboard last week, and students in kindergarten through second grade went back to their brick-and-mortar classrooms. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Data dashboard: Chandler USD reports no COVID-19 cases in first week of in-person elementary school

Chandler USD released its COVID-19 data dashboard last week, and students in kindergarten through second grade went back to their brick-and-mortar classrooms.

Here are the coronavirus hospitalization data updates to know across Arizona. (Community Impact staff)
COVID-19: Number of ICU beds in use drops 87% from July peak

Here is what you need to know about hospitalizations in Arizona because of the coronavirus.