City council did not act on proposed changes to the Park Place development agreement requested by the developer of the downtown residential project at its meeting on Tuesday, February 1.
Bart Shea, director of the N-Shea group and developer of the project, contacted the City to advance the second and third phases of development of the complex. The initial development agreement was approved in 2016 and applied to all three phases of the project. Phase I along Avenue des Fontaines was completed in late 2017 with 230 apartments and 35,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.
Phase II provides for 72 additional residential units and 8,000 square feet of retail space. This second phase extends along the avenue from the existing structure to Saguaro Boulevard and along Saguaro to the hotel. The commercial part of this phase is planned for a building along Saguaro.
Phase III is fully residential with 102 units in what was originally planned as a three story building. This structure is planned for Verde River Drive adjacent to the rear of the West Phase I structure and the Fountain Hills Community Center.
Shea had proposed to change plans to add one story to Phase III, making it a four-story structure, and to eliminate residential on the ground floor of the Phase II building along Saguaro, thereby reducing the residential to commercial ratio from 10:1 to 12.4:1. He also proposed modifying the plan to reduce the number of public parking spaces in the City from 130 to 103.
Director of Development Services John Wesley was set to present the modified site plan for the project to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday, February 14, with consideration by council on March 1. However, Wesley said the requested changes are inconsistent with the development agreement, and before the new site plan can be reviewed, the board would have to approve the changes to the development agreement. He said that without the approved changes, he would recommend that a new sitemap be rejected.
When the board declined to act on the development agreement at the February 1 meeting, Shea agreed to move forward using the original plans for Phase II and Phase III. However, according to Wesley, the next steps are unclear.
Although the maximum height allowed for development on the project is 54 feet and may allow four stories within that limit, the development agreement also limits Phase III to three stories. Vice Mayor Alan Magazine said he did not want to consider the four-story structure.
Mayor Ginny Dickey said she would not support eliminating commercial use on the ground floor of the building along Saguaro Boulevard. She said it would be a good location for retail businesses.
There has been a lot of talk over the years about too many commercially zoned properties in Fountain Hills. Councilor Sharron Grzybowski said she was fine with the reduction in commercial space, but had a number of concerns about a reduction in public parking.
Resident Larry Meyers, speaking during public comments, said: “I told you so.” Meyers remembers speaking out against the Park Place project when it was first presented to council. He said the city has a big vision or “dream” for downtown, but the only thing that’s getting in the way is government and staff.
“I don’t envy you (on this board) for having to go back and clean up this mess and do your best to salvage a bad decision made in 2016,” Meyers said.
Another resident commented on the “unfinished” look of the end of the existing apartment building to the east. This would be covered by the new Phase II construction.
A woman urged the council to allow marketing in the town centre. She explained that she had attempted to buy a franchise looking for several opportunities, but was told that there was not enough residential density in the area to get franchise financing approved.
Shea, along with the landlord and his development partner, explained that they had great difficulty renting the commercial/retail space in the existing buildings and did not want to add more. They offered to help the woman who was looking to bring a franchise to town.
Several people supported Shea’s request, including people praising her civic support for the arts and theater, as well as two former council members who supported the original project and development agreement.
Former city councilor Art Tolis said he supports the project.
“It is the responsibility of the board and staff to be fair with the developer,” Tolis said. “Delays cost him time, money and investor relations.
“The mayor’s comments should not have been made in a public forum.”
“There was a lot of discussion between the developer and the staff,” Dickey said. “It’s the only way forward legally.
“If we had done this in the executive session, you would accuse us of not being transparent.”
Councilor David Spelich also responded to Tolis’ comment.
“You said we weren’t fair, that we didn’t provide customer service?” said Spelich. “The reason I’m sitting in this chair is because of the things you did while you were in this chair.
“I haven’t seen overwhelming support during the Phase I build.”
After the meeting on Wednesday, Wesley said it took some time to sort out the impact of the board’s decision and Shea’s decision to withdraw requests for changes to the development agreement.