Town OKs Olive Mill expansion, possibly with a hotel

These maps show how Queen Creek Olive Mill owner Perry Rea is envisioning an expansion of his agritainment venue. (Special to the Tribune)

Town Council last week cleared the way for a 32-acre expansion of the Queen Creek Olive Mill at the northeast corner of Meridian and Combs Roads that could end up including a hotel and homes.

Originally zoned for “neighborhoods,” the re-zoning of this particular 32-acre plot of land is broken down into three land use categories on either side of Meridian that are connected by a high-tech, family friendly path across the road.

The first parcel allows for single -family residences.

“The idea and intent of this plan is to encourage a direct, safe crossing link into that new olive mill facility to try and funnel whatever this future plan ends up being as a future tie and connection into the Olive Mill to further reiterate that this is intended to be the Olive Mill’s agritainment connection,” town planner Steven Ester said at a recent Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

He said it would include an approximately 43,000-square-foot new store front “for the Olive Mill to continue its retail operations as well as some if its actual production and bottling.”

The Queen Creek Olive Mill is one of three “legacy sites” in town that promote agritainment, which is defined by the town as promoting Queen Creek’s agricultural heritage and background while also providing entertainment options. Sossaman Farms and Schnepf Farms are the other two agritainment venues.

“This is really one of those Big Three that sort of pioneered the zoning district to try and maintain that agricultural focus as far as the development that occurs in this zoning district,” Ester said of the Olive Mill plan.

“Specific to the number 2 category,” Ester said, “the applicant and the property owner have really reiterated to us that they’re expecting a hotel user on this property.”

The area in the second category does not rule out single family residences, though.

In fact, it encourages them as part of the plan, which would mean those homes would be close to a hotel should one be built.

The Olive Mill is adjacent to Schnepf Farms in the southeast part of Queen Creek.

Plans for a hotel would appear to be a little further down the road than a lawyer for the Olive Mill was willing to discuss.

Sean Lake, an attorney who represents Olive Mill owner Perry Rea, was not willing to name hotels that have already expressed interest in being involved in the project. Nor would he divulge how big the structure would be.

“We have been talking to some specific hotel users that want to locate,” Lake said. “We think this is a great location with two of the top entertainment venues in the town right here. So we think there’s going to be very good demand for a hotel.”

The third area, which is sandwiched between the first two, allows for both residential and commercial uses, according to Ester.

“It’s really a way to sort of allow for some flexibility in the plan and for those lines to shift as it actually develops and comes to fruition,” he said.

“There’s a lot of people that have beat down his door trying to do something that is just turn and burn,” Lake said of Rea. “You know, easy, low-hanging fruit. He does not want to do that. He wants it to be compatible with what he has created, kind of a family legacy.”

“Olive Mill is one of my favorite destinations in the town,” said Planning and Zoning Commission Chair David Gillette. “Along with Schnepf and the future Sossaman development, the Agritainment zoning is extremely exciting for me, and I can’t wait to see how this plays out.”

Right now, there is vacant land to the north and east of the future Olive Mill Phase II location.

It’s bordered by Combs Road on the south and the Parks subdivision just

south of Combs, a development that lies in Pinal County.

“This is really, really amazing honestly,” said Councilwoman Leah Martineau. “I love this. I love the vision. What a unique thing that we offer here in our town.”

“This deepens my appreciation for

the continued investment in Queen Creek and very much so looking forward to the development,” said Mayor-elect

Julia Wheatley.

Town Council made it clear that future development will take a broad approach rather than a haphazard one in which the lowest bidder may not have a larger vision for the town in mind.

“We often hear from residents about how do we maintain a small-town feel,” said Vice Mayor Jeff Brown.

“How do we continue to keep Queen Creek on the forefront of these agritainment type uses, something that’s not just another subdivision or its not another storage place or a car wash. We are most appreciative of this nod to Queen Creek’s history,” Brown said.

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