Gilbert starting to frown on apartments - East Valley Tribune: News

Gilbert starting to frown on apartments

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Posted: Saturday, July 12, 2008 6:42 pm | Updated: 11:15 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The amendments were buried in Gilbert's Tuesday City Council meeting agenda. Items 23 and 24: Requests to rezone two land parcels near Higley and Queen Creek roads.

They were amendments proposed by developers to change town plans, essentially to allow construction for apartments. Several years ago, the motions may have passed.

But not Tuesday.

And nearly every council member and the mayor made one thing clear: Gilbert has enough apartments.

"I hope the planning department gets the message that we aren't looking for more (apartments)," Mayor Steve Berman said.

Apartments are becoming a concern in Gilbert, and not just for officials. Residents and police also have raised issues.

The concerns include worries of a demographic shift, a rise in crime and a drop in Gilbert's highly touted per capita income.

The town has nearly 30 apartment complexes with more than 6,000 units. With about 1,200 units under construction and even more proposed, some officials say it's becoming clear that developers are eroding the vision planned for the town.

"I worry about the trend of the nitpicking slowly," Councilman Dave Crozier said. "Eventually the complete complexion changes. I'm not sure of how much more of this type of housing we actually need. It's good to have balance, but it seems to be coming in waves."

Some council members are hedging the topic by calling for more discussion at the council's retreat on Aug. 15 and 16, but Councilman Don Skousen put it directly.

"I think we are building what's going to become slums and problem areas," he said.

Council members couldn't officially deny the amendments at Tuesday's meeting. They had to be withdrawn and rescheduled because of an error in the public notice that didn't correctly classify the rezoning, town planners said.

But if adopted, the amendments could allow more than 1,100 units to squeeze into two parcels of land, about 21 and 27 acres each. The moves would essentially triple the number of people designated to live on the parcels, expanding zoning from 3.5 to five housing units per acre to 14 to 25 units per acre.

"I understand as a real estate broker what they are doing," Councilman Steve Urie said at the meeting. "They are coming in and looking at a parcel that's zoned for lower density and then coming in with a general plan amendment so they don't have to pay the price of what land would cost if it was higher density.

"If they can pull it off, they save themselves a ton of money and can bring in their projects."

While developers look to Gilbert to capitalize on cheaper land, the issue of apartments appears to be more divisive than just money.

"The things I'm proud of in Gilbert are that we have the highest per capita income in Arizona, and we also have a very low crime rate," Berman said. "Both those things are driven by demographics. And frankly, the more we go to multifamily, it's going to drive down both those statistics."

Some apartments complexes have already become headaches for the police, particularly San Clemente apartments at Germann and Power roads.

While police officials hesitate to call the complex or others a problem, there has been a strong push to rein in criminal activity.

Apartment complexes accumulated more than 4,000 calls for police service last year and nearly 1,000 incident reports. San Clemente was the worst offender with 775 calls for service and 145 incident reports.

The community surrounding San Clemente also has taken issue with the complex.

Parents of students at nearby Power Elementary School resisted a school boundary shift last month that included children who lived in San Clemente.

"I've never seen the community come out and support apartments or ask for apartments," Berman said.

Gilbert's general plan includes zoning for higher-density multifamily housing. In years past, town officials have shifted zoning to allow for more.

While the council will weigh the apartment issue in greater detail next month, it seems clear the rise of apartments in Gilbert is reaching a ceiling.

"We have to push them back to where it's designated," Urie said. "It's where they should be. And sorry if the price of the land isn't where the buyer wants it."

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