After months of public meetings, the massive Hawes Crossing development is heading toward a vote by the Mesa City Council in January, with only one member opposing it and millions of dollars riding on the decision.
If the zoning changes requested by attorney Jordan Rose are approved, that vote would unlock the potential for development of more than 1,100 acres in an aircraft overflight area two miles from Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport.
It also will enable six dairy farmers to sell their 535 acres and relocate to a more pastoral setting.
While the dairy farms have come to symbolize Hawes Crossing, which plans to use a white and silver dairy-oriented theme, the Arizona Land Department stands to benefit just as much if not more so.
Hawes Crossing includes 595 state-owned acres that likely would be sold in a lucrative auction if the council approves the zoning.
The state land runs along Loop 202, where major projects such as office parks, industrial parks and large multi-family housing complexes are anticipated. The auction would help the department further its mission of supporting public universities and schools.
“There’s a lot of money on the table,’’ Rose said – not only for the dairymen and the state but also for Mesa through taxes and other revenues like development fees.
“I think it was monumentally important that the staff show that the vast majority (of Hawes Crossing) is in the county,’’ Rose said. “It’s important to get control over that much property so you get revenue out of it. The revenues are going to come to the city or the county.’’
In a Sept. 3 report, state land commissioner Lisa Atkins said her department raised more than $216 million in revenue – including $146 million from 16 land sales and lease auctions.
She noted sales in the 2018-19 fiscal year totaled more than any year since 2007.
Moreover, developers are paying premium prices for vacant land in Maricopa County as population growth soars and a housing shortage plagues the region.
“Potential end-users are already expressing great interest,’’ Rose said, although she had no estimate on how long it might take to build out the master-planned, mixed-used development.
Mesa Planning Director Nana Appiah reminded the council that the city would gain control over 967 acres currently in Maricopa County through an annexation. Only 161 acres included in the Hawes Crossing plan are now within Mesa’s boundaries.
Mesa has no primary property tax, but it has a secondary property tax that often is used to finance bonds approved by voters through bond issues for major capital improvements. That secondary tax also helps finance Mesa Public Schools’ bonds.
The latest city bond issues, approved by voters last year, eventually will build a sweeping array of community improvements – including a southeast Mesa library, police and fire stations and a series of parks.
But Appiah also noted in a presentation to the council last week that the annexation and the zoning changes are vital to the dairymen and the land department because the county’s RU-43 zoning on the property limits them to one house per acre.
Either in Mesa or in the county, zoning changes to allow mixed-use development would be required.
But opponents, including East Mesa Councilman Kevin Thompson and former council member Rex Griswold, argue that approving Hawes Crossing threatens nearby Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport with residential encroachment that could limit airport operations in the future.
Hawes Crossing falls entirely in Aircraft Overflight Area 3, where housing is considered a compatible use despite inevitable plane noise.
Appiah also noted that Mesa’s zoning approval would require construction techniques to bring the noise down inside residential units to 45 decibels or less.
Housing is banned in overflight area 1, which has a decibel rating of 65 and is closest to the airport, and is allowed only by a special use permit in aircraft overflight area II, which is rated at 60 decibels.
Appiah displayed a map showing that the closest section of Hawes Crossing is a half-mile away from the overflight area II.
That’s one reason why Thompson, Griswold and economic development entities such as the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the Mayor’s Economic Development Advisory Council have opposed Hawes Crossing.
All favor protecting the airport and pursuing commercial and industrial development in the area to encourage job development.
Rose said she has compromised as much as possible on this issue, reducing the area of housing in Hawes Crossing to 44 percent from more than 80 percent in early versions. She said 56 percent will be for non-residential development.
That’s still too much for Thompson, who said residents of Hawes Crossing would inevitably call the city to complain about aircraft noise.
“That’s what is going to get us those calls and that is what is going to impact the operations at the airport,’’ he said. “It’s going to be detrimental. We are going to have issues when we fill this area with residential.’’
J. Brian O’Neill, CEO and executive director of Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport, has warned about future noise complaints, especially when houses in Hawes Crossing are resold to new owners who might not realize their close proximity to the airport and flight paths.
Property owners in Hawes Crossing would be required to grant the city an “avigation” easement, essentially holding the city harmless. The easement also serves as an official notification to residents that their property is in an overflight area.
Hawes Crossing’s location also requires Federal Aviation Administration approval before any building permits can be issued. The agency requires assurances that no would not pose a threat to planes.
A statement recorded with property records would also make it clear the area is subject to aircraft noise. A sign required in sales offices also would notify potential buyers of noise from air traffic.
But the airport did not oppose Hawes Crossing because it is in overflight area III.
“Typically, when we come before a government body, it’s more clear-cut than with Hawes Crossing,’’ O’Neill said.
He said noise is difficult to predict for the future because additional taxiways are being built to allow more efficient use of all of three runways, some of which are a mile apart from each other.
“When we have all the taxiway connections, we will be able to use all three runways more efficiently,’’ O’Neill said. “Depending upon which runway we’re using, it’s going to have an impact on the flight path, whether it’s Gilbert, Queen Creek or Mesa.’’
Councilman Jeremy Whittaker praised Rose for compromising on the amount of residential development in Hawes Crossing and said he plans to vote to approve the project.
“I think the city is always eager to develop dirt and turn it into something substantial,’’ he said. “I think everyone deserves an opportunity the sell their land.’’
“I think the zoning attorney is doing a tremendous amount of work to keep everyone happy,’’ Whittaker said.
But Griswold said Mesa needs more industrial development to create jobs, not more housing. He said Eastmark, a rapidly growing master-planned community already provides housing east of the airport.
“In my opinion, it is short-sighted’’ to allow more housing so close to the airport, Griswold said. “If you are going to be a more modern city, rather than a bedroom community,’’ more high-quality jobs are needed.
Citing the city’s success with the Elliot Road Technology Corridor, east of Loop 202, where Apple and other big companies have opened data centers or are planning them, Griswold said Mesa should continue to concentrate on economic development near the airport.
“We’re on the verge of being cutting-edge with jobs if we don’t mess it up,’’ he said.
Mayor John Giles told the East Valley Tribune that he has not made his mind up on how he will vote on zoning case, pending the city’s efforts to clarify a few issues with Rose.
“We’re trying to get the best deal,’’ Giles said. “It’s a work in progress.’’
City Manager Chris Brady listed some of those issues at last week’s council meeting.
They include an easement to allow access along Elliot Road to high-voltage power lines along a corridor about a half-mile to the north; a restriction on residential housing on the first floor along Elliot; and signs directing traffic to Phoenix Gateway Airport within Hawes Crossing.
But Giles also noted there are advantages for Mesa to consider the huge development
“I would like to see a way to master plan this property,’’ Giles said. “That’s the primary motivation I am aware of, for city planning purposes, so we can avoid inconsistent or piecemeal development.’’
He acknowledged that Rose is correct in her argument that approving the zoning would produce significant revenues for the city – especially with Mesa’s reliance on the secondary property tax.
But he said revenue is not the overriding issue.
“I can honestly tell you that it has not been discussed at any meetings I have attended, but it is nonetheless true,’’ Giles said. “Certainly, there is motivation for the taxpayers to want a larger tax pool.’’
He said Mesa is the only city that regulates the aircraft overflight district III and that other cities approve residential in those areas all the time.
While more residential might alter airport operations, he said it was apparent to him from O’Neill’s comments that there would be no need for restrictions.