New Valley development usually translates to a sea of red tile roofs and cul-de-sacs, but Mesa has drawn a line in the sand against bland suburbia in one emerging part of the city.
Mesa leaders are demanding an urban approach that was typical a century ago, with front porches and neighborhood amenities close enough to encourage walking instead of driving. The anti-suburban sentiment even applies to gas stations, as officials don’t want prime intersections dominated by a field of fuel pumps.
This urban push is taking place by the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, where developers are reviving plans that went on hold during the recession. The latest proposal is from Pacific Proving LLC, which is preparing to build homes and some commercial development on 484 acres on the southeast corner of Ellsworth and Ray roads.
Pacific Proving plans to build a downtown-like development at the community’s entrance and avoid the typical suburban design. Zoning attorney Paul Gilbert said much of the work will be done by Harvard Investments, a Canadian firm that built much of the downtown skyline in Regina, the capitol city of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.
Mesa wants the area around Gateway to become one of the Valley’s largest employment centers, with mid-rise buildings in an urban setting.
Vice Mayor Scott Somers represents the area and said he envisions something like Phoenix’s Willow Historic District or the more modern Agritopia in Gilbert. He liked much of the plan but questioned whether it went far enough.
“How are you going to make housing stock that is not only complementary to the airport, but doesn’t have that suburban design, suburban feel, suburban sameness that we’ve had up until now?” he said. “Some of this looks pretty good but some elements of this plan still feel a little suburban to me.”
He also wants the developer to look at other urban developments to see how gas stations can have a more attractive appearance.
The development will be defined by a formal street grid system with short blocks and tree-lined streets to encourage walking, zoning attorney Susan Demmitt said. All homes would be within 300 feet of a park, open space or trail. And Pacific Proving will work to blend different areas into each other by avoiding walls around shopping centers or neighborhoods.
“We’re really trying to encourage, in the architecture and design, things like front porches, houses closer to the street, so that you have an engaged and lively street scene,” Demmitt said.
Pacific Proving is working to get city approval by June. Construction would start in two or three years, and it would take 10 to 15 years to build out the area, Demmitt said. Planning is still under way, but the area could have 1,700 to 3,500 housing units.
The timing will depend on market conditions. Two key drivers will be the development of a new Gateway passenger terminal and the opening of the new state Route 24, which runs on the south side of Pacific Proving’s residential area. To the south, Pacific owns an even larger plot of land for an employment corridor of office parks and light industrial.
That commercial district had formerly included plans for some housing. But Pacific eliminated the homes in 2006 after objections from The Boeing Co. triggered controversy. After the defense contractor said the homes would endanger flight tests of the Apache helicopter, Pacific replaced the proposed homes with commercial plans.
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