A plan to build a 50-acre shopping center at Riggs and Higley roads in Gilbert is at risk of being scrapped by a November election — even though many neighbors say they are eager for more convenient shopping.
“I’d love it,” Seville resident Rich Paschal said of the planned shopping center. “Right now, there’s not much retail. I personally see it as progress.”
But whether residents ever see the planned Greer Towne Center likely depends on the outcome of one of four issues on Gilbert’s Nov. 6 ballot. Voters will decide the fate of a town agreement to repay the center’s developer for road construction in the area, and if that’s shot down, the developer plans to abandon the project altogether.
Many area residents see possible loss of the shopping center as “collateral damage” in an ongoing political war in Gilbert pitting those who put the issue on the ballot against the Town Council.
At issue is the agreement in which developer Vestar would recoup an estimated $9.7 million for expanding a townowned intersection next to the planned center. Vestar would be paid back over 20 years by keeping a portion of sales taxes generated by the center.
The issue was placed on the ballot by opponents who say the town-developer agreement is financially sound and fair for the town and its residents. What they question is why the town is using sales tax revenue rather than bonds for the roadwork, and the fact that residents didn’t have the opportunity for public input on the agreement.
“The public should have a chance to see what’s going on,” said Gilbert resident Fred Phillis, a member of Valley Business Owners (And Concerned Citizens) and a key player in the drive that put the issue on the ballot.
A “yes” vote will be to approve the development agreement.
A “no” vote rejects the agreement, which Vestar officials have said means they will end negotiations to purchase the land, and not develop the center.
“Having neighborhood support is absolutely critical,” Vestar spokesman Jason Rose said. “We can understand how it can be a little frustrating to have to drive so far for a pair of socks, or for a decent place to eat.”
Seville resident Bryan King said most people living in his neighborhood are in support of the center.
“If you think about it, the southeast Valley has been wanting all these things for such a long time. And now we’re not going to support the things coming in?” King said. “It makes no sense. There were no restaurants, no stores, and now they’re ready to come.”
He said many questioned why someone would put the shopping center on the ballot, when there has not been any outcry from Seville and other area neighbors.
Land immediately adjacent to the future center includes homes in Acacia Estates still under construction. Also nearby is Payne Junior High School in the Chandler Unified School District, and a handful of rural horse lots.
While many residents said they looked forward to retail availability, they added that they would be opposed to a Wal-Mart, and some suggested boutique stores. The developer hasn’t identified any potential retailers.
Resident Elaine Birks-Mitchell said she welcomes the center for its convenience.
“It would be wonderful to be able to drive right down the street,” she said. “Closer is better.”
Town Council members and Mayor Steve Berman have adamantly supported the development and the agreement as a cost savings for the town. Without it, the town would be responsible for the more costly roadwork in years to come, and under the agreement the roadwork would come sooner and the town would still collect a portion of sales tax.
Berman added the center is expected to attract customers from Mesa, east Chandler and Queen Creek, who will essentially pay for the road through the sales taxes.
“If there’s a complaint people have in Gilbert, it is typically not enough roads,” he said.