North Central News

Developers, activists clash over Place Types

By Patty Talahongva
It’s not quite “back to the drawing board” for the Place Type recommendation at Camelback and Central, but the plan will again be considered and clarified by the Alhambra Village Planning Committee (AVPC) and then presented – again –  to the City Planning Commission on March 12.

The Place Types are important because they make recommendations for the kind of commercial development that could come in around the light rail line within a quarter-mile area. While they have no real “teeth,” they do provide guidelines for future development and could, down the road, become actual zoning ordinance, according to city officials.

Nearly a year ago, the AVPC approved a plan put together by the Central and Camelback Coalition (CCC). At least that was the understanding of the group. But it took until last month for all 17 Place Types to go before the Phoenix Planning Commission for review and recommendations, before forwarding them on to the Phoenix City Council for final approval. The idea was to do them all in one block.

“We know that to some degree the market will dictate what’s going to happen, the size of the property and how they’re situated within the neighborhood boundaries.”
— Bruce Bilbrey
But much to the surprise of Bruce Bilbrey, the spokesperson for the CCC, the Central and Camelback plan presented to the Phoenix Planning Commission was not the one he recalled having been approved nearly a year ago.

Bilbrey’s group is focused on the Central and Camelback stop because that area happens to intersect with four historic neighborhoods. The group came up with a Place Type after several neighborhood meetings and talking to residents.

The CCC’s recommended Place Type was a hybrid of suggested plans and was dubbed the “Urban Historic Neighborhood Place Type.” The CCC presented its recommendations to the AVPC last February and it passed by a vote of nine to one.

The AVPC did make minor edits to the levels of design proposed by the CCC, including allowing buildings up to five stories in height. The base retail footprint was moved up from 20,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet.

That was in February 2012. But at the Planning Commission meeting last month, Bilbrey says a representative from Beus Gilbert, a lobbying firm, kept insisting the recommendation that the AVPC made included a stipulation that the area north of Camelback would be handled separately from the south side. That change in the AVPC’s recommendation allegedly was made at a meeting in January.

“We didn’t attend because we were told it was just a courtesy review,” says Bilbrey, “not open for discussion or vote or changes.”

There was enough confusion about what, exactly, was being recommended that the director for the city’s Planning Department asked the Planning Commission to send it back to the AVPC one more time.

At issue is the height restrictions. Bilbrey worries that if it’s left open, greater heights could someday make it into the General Plan. “We’re going to push for as low as possible,” he says. He also realizes the city has a mandate to get development designed on the line so the dirt lots don’t stay that way for years to come.

Curt Upton, light rail planning coordinator for the city, expected this process would have been completed by the fall of last year. It appears the Place Types won’t reach the City Council until late spring.

“We know that to some degree the market will dictate what’s going to happen, the size of the property and how they’re situated within the neighborhood boundaries,” Bilbrey acknowledges. The CCC knows the city must create development to generate revenue, he adds. He says his group is not against development but they just want what they call “reasonable and sensible” development.

This is still Phase I of the project. Phases II and III could take up to three years to complete. City officials say the projected end time for those phases is December 2014. In Phase IV, potential rezoning efforts will start.

The Planning Commission will meet to review all the Place Types, including Central and Camelback, for a second time beginning 6 p.m. March 12 in the City Council Chamber, 200 W. Jefferson. The meeting is open to the public.

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