An $85 million bond package Gilbert voters approved March 14 will begin with projects focusing exclusively on widening Williams Field Road — leaving other projects waiting until as late as 2011.
The decision, made by an informal poll of the Town Council on Tuesday, means park projects and improvements on Power and Riggs roads — as well as a special events venue — will have to wait as many as five years before they get under way.
The decision stems from the council’s desire to get Williams Field completed to aid development of a 950-acre project called Cooley Station that officials hope will rival downtown Tempe, with night life for residents.
The land owned by the Cooley family is adjacent to Arizona State University Polytechnic and Williams Gateway Airport.
“The Gateway plan has been languishing, and I can’t see skipping over that if we have to prioritize,” Councilman Don Skousen said. “I think it’s time to do that first.”
Steve Nielsen, a partner with Nielsen Fackler Planning and Development which has helped design Cooley Station’s plans with owner Jeff Cooley, urged the council to focus on Williams Field, saying Cooley Station “brings economic vitality” to Gilbert, which now relies strongly on new home development fees.
But Mayor Steve Berman and Councilman Larry Morrison said the decision would harm plans by other developers and companies, possibly stifling a Vestar retail development along Riggs Road, for instance, and halting longawaited improvements at three parks.
However, Town Manager George Pettit said a decision the council must make by next year could help speed up the other projects, even if Williams Field is completed first.
Because assessed property values in town have risen about 40 percent, Pettit said, town income from property taxes could rise that much next year, providing additional funds for the parks and other road projects.
That is, he said, unless the council opts to lower the tax rate to prevent actual taxes from rising with home values.
The state limits the amount of bonds the town can sell at any one time based on the town’s property tax rate, and the Williams Field improvements alone will cost about $22 million for the first phase that could begin immediately, and a total of $50 million including about $30 million in bonds that can be sold in 2009.
A previous bond package approved in 2001 allows the town to spend an additional $11 million on park projects at Freestone, Nichols and McQueen parks, but those bond sales also could be put on hold until Williams Field is completed.