P&Z OKs rezoning for 200 more apartments off Porter Road

The Roers Maricopa apartments will be built on this site southwest of Porter Road and Iron Point Drive. The 200-unit, 3-story apartment complex, is not slated to begin construction for at least a year. [Google Earth]

Another high-density apartment complex was approved Monday night for 10 vacant acres adjacent to Santa Rosa Springs.

The Planning & Zoning Commission voted 5-1 to approve land use and zoning changes for the property at the southwest corner of Porter Road and Iron Point Drive, just south of Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. Commissioner Bill Robertson was absent.

The proposed Roers Maricopa project would include 200 units in three-story buildings with a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments ranging in size from 850-1,250 square feet. If approved by City Council, construction could begin in about a year.

Vice Chair Michael Sharpe was the lone vote against both requests: an amendment to the city’s future land use map converting the acreage from Public/Institutional (P) to High Density Residential (HDR) use, and a zoning change from the existing General Business (CB-2) to High Density Residential (RH).

Despite the approvals, there was a different tone among some commissioners in response to residents’ concerns about the project, which follows on the heels of considerable public opposition to the 538-unit Home at Maricopa apartment project, a half-mile north on Porter Road, at last week’s City Council meeting.

The apartment complex will be developed by Roers Companies of Minnesota, which specializes in multi-family communities.

Area residents are protesting the projects for two primary reasons – the increase in traffic in an already congested area and the concentration of apartments in the area surrounding Walmart.

Santa Rosa Springs resident Bill Lindsay summed up the local opposition to the project.

“I want to thank the guys from Roers, they’ve been real gentlemen – now I’m going to step on them,” Lindsay said. “We’re looking to complicate an already egregious problem by adding all these units and the subsequent traffic that adds. I would like to see the apartment complex delayed until the traffic pattern can be improved to the point where it will not be so difficult for the residents.”

Another Santa Rosa Springs resident said the single access point to her neighborhood – Iron Point Road – is complicated by two factors: the Union Pacific Railroad that runs parallel to Maricopa Casa Grande Highway to the north, and the Santa Rosa Wash crossing on Porter Road just south.

Greg Davis of iPlan Consulting, a land use consultant for Roers, addressed those concerns, as well as those of privacy for the neighboring Santa Rosa Springs development.

“There are still traffic conditions down here because of the railroad tracks and because the roads in the area are underdeveloped for the future land uses we’re talking about,” he said. “This project is a multi-year project and it’s going to take us at least a year to get through the approval process and start construction.”

Davis has represented the developers on four residential developments in the area around Walmart. Two are apartment complexes – Home at Maricopa and Roers Maricopa – plus a community of single-family and multi-family single-story homes for rent, REV@Porter. He also represents the developer of the 1,886-acre Santa Cruz Ranch at the southwest corner of Maricopa Casa Grande Highway and Murphy Road.

According to Davis, the Roers project is different from a luxury community like Home at Maricopa, where many of the residents would expect to commute to jobs in the Valley.

“This project doesn’t serve people who commute to Phoenix,” Davis said. “A lot of the concern we hear is about traffic congestion going north on Porter getting on 347 and on to Phoenix. That’s not who this project serves. This project is meant to serve people who live and work in Maricopa and can’t afford to rent a house or buy a house. We’re talking about our teachers, our first responders.”

Davis also addressed the issue of privacy for residents of Santa Rosa Springs, which directly abuts the project to the west. He said the design of the project placed parking structures between the apartment homes and the single-family residences, and the apartments are set back 85-90 feet from the property line. In addition, large 24-inch box trees will be planted between the garage and the property boundary.

On the north side of Roers where garages cannot be placed, a double row of trees will be planted for privacy.

Sharpe was the most vocal committee member in his reservations about the project.

“I find myself struggling as I listen to some of our neighbors address this body with their concerns,” Sharpe said. “There seems to be a common thread, and I share some of those concerns. The primary concern I have is changing the zoning. It has to do with the aggregation of apartments in this Porter Road corridor. This is where we can pump the brakes and let those other projects and products come online, re-assess the traffic in real time, what it really feels like as opposed to projections and rosy assessments and future realignments that may or may not happen, and actually see what happens in the community. I support that we need additional multi-family, but I don’t see where we need it right here.”

Sharpe’s comments came after a presentation by city planner Byron Easton, who said the change to high-density residential zoning would generate 908 vehicle trips per day in the area, far fewer than the 8,824 estimated vehicle trips if the existing general business zoning remained in place and a commercial development were to be built on the site.

Commissioner Dan Frank, a civil engineer, questioned the forecasted 68 morning peak hour trips and 86 evening peak hour trips, saying he thought they were low. But he yielded to city staff, whose forecast was based on trip rates in the Trip Generation Manual.

“The number of Project-generated trips are not expected to create any significant impacts at the Project driveway or adjacent intersections,” the city staff report said.

Commissioner Ted Yocum also expressed concerns over the project and the growing level of public opposition.

“I drive these areas from time to time that folks are talking about and can identify with the anguish and frustration (of residents),” Yocum said. “In this particular area there is an inordinate concentration of this type of development that is adding to the traffic situation. When I look at this, we have a slowly growing but very intense crescendo developing as to how much are we going to develop, how many cars are we going to put in that area, and this whole situation has to be revisited.”

Ultimately, both Frank and Yocum would join with chairwoman Linda Huggins and members Jim Irving and Rachel Leffall to vote to approve the project.