A second disputed project in weeks had a Planning and Zoning board member wondering if, when neighbors don’t like a developer’s plans, “Is it just tough luck?”
Indeed, for the second time in weeks, neighbors are upset about building plans, claiming developers reneged on agreements.
Yet the disputed plans were approved.
First, neighbors of a 30-acre office development near Riverview in northeast Mesa begged the Planning and Zoning Board and Mesa City Council for months to reject plans for a four-story garage.
The neighbors said this went against an agreement they had with the developer not to build that high. But city officials noted that the neighbors had no written evidence to support their claims and approved the Waypoint plan April 19.
That battle was referenced during Planning and Zoning meetings on another project, during Sycamore Station developer attempts to have plans modified – which, again, neighbors say is a “flip” on earlier promises.
The two cases had one wondering: What good is the neighborhood participation process if developers eventually will just do what they want?
Two miles south of Riverview and on the west end of downtown, the Sycamore Station is a 21-acre, L-shaped site bordered by West Main Street on the south end, North Dobson Road on the east and North Sycamore on the west.
The area is best known for the Valley Metro park-and-ride station at Main and Sycamore.
The developer requested a modification to the Sycamore Station Smart Growth Community Plan to allow for changes it insisted were minor.
At an April 28 virtual meeting, P&Z board members – Dane Astle (the chair), Jessica Sarkissian, Tim Boyle, Shelly Allen, Jeffrey Crockett, Deanna Villanueva-Saucedo and Ben Ayers – heard representatives of the developer, as well as Tyler Montague, a neighbor and member of the Mesa Grande Community Alliance.
Montague said the group feels betrayed by what some might call a “bait and switch” after being sold on a project that would have nice houses for sale and some rentals, he said. The developer is now pushing through a plan dominated by apartments – with no houses for sale.
“Ownership component of the project was a significant piece of the project and was the main reason that the neighborhood agreed to this project,” Montague told the board.
Previous apartments in the area, he said, “started out nice and 10 years later, they transitioned to mediocre and then at some point after that became struggling …We really do not want apartments, we want the things that were promised such as a parking garage and ownership.”
Neil Calfee, who represents developer Miravista Holdings, told the board there was no major change in the plans and that rentals were part of them from the beginning.
But, he stressed, the portion of the site to be developed as houses has run into a snag.
“The challenge we faced in terms of developing the single-family, for-sale component is that that property is not available for development in the foreseeable future, based on some ownership issues that involve the city and a private party,” he said. “So, the challenges are that we cannot develop that component of it at this time.”
He pushed back on the idea that schools would be wary of taking students from rental properties.
“The principal of Webster Elementary was excited to have more people here, which translates to more students for the school,” he said, noting the Mesa Public Schools District is facing enrollment decline.
Lindsay Schube, also representing the developer, added, “The first couple of phases of development that we (have) control over are the for-rent portions, but the ‘for-sale’ is still there. We have not made … substantial changes.”
Boyle expressed concern that the developers were betraying neighbors with the rental properties.
“I am concerned and I know when this was first pitched to my neighborhood, there was a for-sale element,” Boyle said. “And that is sort of what the neighborhood accepted and said, ‘OK, if there’s a for-sale element, we can see that there is a balance here.’
“If it ends up being a largely transient thing, then by our own Mesa 2040 General Plan, we are negatively affecting the schools there. And I don’t think that is the right thing to do.”
It sounded all too familiar, to Boyle.
“The other thing that concerns me about this is what happened with that Riverview development, when it had the neighborhood meeting originally, many, many years ago, it was pitched as a two-story development.
“And then with the negotiation within the city, it became a three-story development, which ended up ruining the views of all the neighbors of the Riverview area, it’s going through there and then they had the entitlements.:
“The neighborhood component was cut off ... there needs to be a conversation with the neighborhoods and the citizens need to be given input once again, on what happens in their neighborhoods,” Boyle said.
After lengthy discussion, the P&Z board voted to move the issue to its May 12 meeting to allow the developer and neighborhood group to meet and hash out things.
The Sycamore Station changes require City Council approval, so neighbors have another shot to plead their case, though that didn’t work for the Riverview residents.
The developer’s representatives met with the neighborhood association May 5.
According to the Citizen Participation Report, the Mesa Grande Community Association “asserted that multi-residence housing has negative impacts on the academic success and learning environment of the local schools.”
The P&Z board met a week later.
After a summary of the project, a comment card signed by 10 members of the neighborhood association was read.
Obviously, no progress had been made.
“We wish to express our concern about the current state of the Sycamore Station project and withdraw our support for the development,” the statement said.
The neighbors insisted the developer was reversing the original plans to build and sell townhomes before apartments.
Schube defended the changes as minor and several board members agreed with her.
Sarkissan noted the overall plan had not been changed, and it wasn’t the board’s place to dive into a dispute over for sale vs. for rent.
“I’m very uncomfortable with us overstepping our purview,” Villanueva-Saucedo added.
Boyle wondered who, if not the board, will stick up for neighbors.
“If it’s not our purview, whose purview is it? When a developer comes in, says one thing, things change now it’s different, the neighborhood feels slighted … Is it just tough luck, neighborhood and developers can do whatever they want?” Boyle pondered. “When you have neighborhood meetings, what can they change?”
Boyle noted that neighbors go to meetings with developers expecting both sides to be satisfied.
“The win-win is usually the developer wins,” he concluded.
With Boyle the only vote against, the P&Z board approved the modification to the Sycamore Station Smart Growth Community Plan.
Later, Schube answered questions from the Tribune, explaining the portion of the project slated for houses is owned by a family.
“The City of Mesa has a long-term lease over the property for park and ride. They have approximately 40 years left on the lease,” she said.
While the city supports the development, she said, negotiations with the family have hit a snag, with the owners asking for a “pretty unrealistic” price.
“For years, we thought we could make this work. We worked very hard with the city of Mesa in good faith,” she said.
She said the neighbors are “lovely and I do feel we have a good relationship.”
But, she said, fears of a trashy rental property are unfounded.
“You can without a doubt characterize these as high quality, market rate, high rent … These are going to be very very nice units,” Schube said.
“Mesa is in a state of transformation, and I think it’s a great opportunity to develop this part of Mesa.”