A flier arrives in your mailbox bearing some shocking news: The property down the street is slated to become a shopping mall.
There’s little chance to express your opinion before the project is put to a vote of the planning board.
This is often the way development operates, but community organizations in west Mesa are trying to give residents more of a say in the future design of their neighborhoods.
The Henry Brown Buick Pontiac GMC on west Main Street is moving to Gilbert, probably later this year or early next, and the West Mesa Community Development Corporation, along with other local groups, is already envisioning the future of the 3.6-acre property.
The West Mesa CDC has hosted two of these brainstorming sessions, or design “charrettes,” in the past several months, drawing 40-plus members of the surrounding neighborhood.
“If (only) a developer would stop and think what he’s doing,” said Dave Richins, the group’s executive director. “Why would he want to alienate and make angry the very neighborhood he wants to shop at his store?
“What we’re doing on Main Street is trying to illustrate how community development should happen,” Richins added.
Community leaders hope the neighborhood’s involvement will go beyond the design phase.
“This whole process is designed so that the neighborhood itself devises the conceptual plan and then the neighborhood itself through its organizations is actually the developer as well,” said Karen LaFrance, executive director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation.
At these design workshops, the last of which was held Thursday, attendees built their own developments — literally.
Using white 1-inch cubes to symbolize units, participants placed the cubes onto a foam core board that served as the property. They constructed miniature developments with 550 units and looked at designs with 250 and 120 units.
They envisioned a three- to five-story high-rise with retail space at the ground level and apartments on the top. They contemplated underground parking.
“It is awesome that they actually want to include the neighborhood and they are actually listening to us,” said Cathy Shepherd, the block captain of the Pepper Place Neighborhood. “It generates excitement.”
Property owner Art Piccinati said he’s unsure what the future holds for his property, but he’s pleased so far with the community input.
He recognizes that the property is in a prime location. It’s only a half-block away from a stop along the future light-rail route and it’s situated near Loop 101, Loop 202 and U.S. 60.
“Any property owner would like to see the best use of the property,” he said. “Our family would like to see Mesa blossom and flower and become a vigorous, healthy community.”