North Central News

Neighbors fight to block development

By Colleen Sparks

Many residents who live in homes around the intersection of Maryland and 11th avenues are fighting to try to stop a proposed development they say would exacerbate traffic, boost pollution and compromise the integrity of their neighborhood.

Their passionate pleas to keep two-story homes from being built slightly east of the southeast corner of 11th and Maryland avenues divided members of the Alhambra Village Planning Committee and Phoenix Planning Commission. Neither the committee nor the commission could reach a majority vote needed among their members to recommend the Phoenix City Council approve or deny the rezoning request to allow the development to be built. The Phoenix City Council will reconsider the zoning change that would allow the development at its meeting Oct. 2.

Some members of the Planning Commission at their Sept. 5 meeting said trying to decide whether to recommend approving the new homes was challenging because they liked developer Nick Blue’s design plans and said they believed he had compromised with neighbors to appease their concerns.

But they said they also appreciated neighbors’ devotion to preserving the rural feel of their neighborhood, where many live in ranch-style homes passed down to them from their families. Some locals in the neighborhood have horses and donkeys on their property.

Blue, executive director of Blue Sky Real Estate, wants to build 15 homes on the vacant, 2.51-acre site he owns, which is currently zoned to allow nine to 11 homes on it. The proposed development would be compatible with the adjacent, existing single-family residential uses and the General Plan Land Use Map designation that is 3.5 to 5 dwelling units per acre.

A vote to allow the rezoning for the development was tied, 4-4, and then a second proposal to recommend denial of the rezoning failed in a 2-6 vote at the Phoenix Planning Commission meeting. The Alhambra Village Planning Committee in August voted a few times but also could not reach a consensus.

“The neighbors are going to fight for our neighborhood,” Debbie Ramsey, who lives on Maryland Avenue said after the Planning Commission meeting. “I believe in keeping the neighborhood the way it is.”

Planning Commission Vice-Chairwoman Sissie Shank praised Blue but also showed support for the neighbors who spoke against the project before voting to recommend denial of the development.

“I’m kind of struggling on both sides of the fence,” Shank said. “I actually like [the] design and development. I love that you’re (neighbors) standing by your homes.”

Blue said during the meeting he and the architectural team behind the plan had met several times with neighbors and adjusted their proposal to appease concerns, including decreasing the project from 35 to 15 homes. He and the team also said to ensure privacy for adjacent property owners the new homes would have balconies that did not face perimeter property lines.

“We are a family business in the Valley,” Blue said. “We build communities and not just houses. We feel like it’s in line with where the general plan is headed.”

Several neighbors were not convinced and said even though zoning currently allows for homes to be built on the site, allowing 15 homes would set a precedent for more, higher-density home developments to be built that are not in line with their neighborhood’s character.

“Maryland has only one lane in each direction,” Mary “Kay” Wing of Maryland Circle said. “I recognize that infill is inevitable. I agree five more houses is not going to make or break property on Maryland…Those five homes start adding up.”

Some also said they do not like the proposal for modern, two-story houses as they will not blend in with the older, ranch-style houses in their neighborhood.

“I’ve lived in this house for 23 years,” Brian McGrath of North 10th Avenue said. “Our neighborhood’s had a nice, rural feeling for the last 50-plus years.”

Blue said the development would have a curved entry designed to calm traffic as it enters the community and the homes would be Energy Star-certified.

Some Planning Commission members said they sympathized over the traffic but still saw positive aspects to the housing proposal.

“I understand what you guys are going through with traffic, but we can’t stop progress,” Planning Commissioner John Montalvo II said.

Planning Commissioner Pete Gorraiz also expressed understanding of the neighbors but sided with the developer.

“I can really feel with the neighborhood wanting to keep the neighborhood the way it is,” Gorraiz said. “The final straw (is) there has been compromise on one side, not on the other.”

Planning Commission Chairman Justin Johnson urged Blue and his architectural team to talk to the neighbors to see if they could reach an agreement on ways to adjust the architectural plans to make most of the neighbors happy.

One thing Blue and several neighbors agreed on was that they were disappointed the Planning Commission did not make a recommendation either way. But they said they would follow Johnson’s advice to meet again to try to hammer out their differences.

“I was a little surprised and disappointed,” Blue said after the Planning Commission meeting. “We’ve compromised really at every level.”

Ramsey said she believed Blue could talk to neighbors and come up with a plan to make the property with the homes “look more beautiful.”

 

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