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Opposition grows to lower cost apartments in Surprise

Dominium explains aspects of affordable housing proposal

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At first Quintus Schulzke simply did not want a densely-packed affordable housing complex with some Section 42 qualified residents down the street from his Sierra Montana home and on the other side of Waddell Road.

He attended April 27 meeting on a proposed two-part Waddell Crossing rental complex proposed by Minnesota-based Dominium Inc. with a total of 613 units. Schulzke and other residents networked and put together voiceofsurprise.com — a site for opposition to the project, where organizers met and have since gathered roughly 1,000 signatures against the project.

After getting involved because of concerns of how a densely-packed, lower-income project would affect home values and traffic in and around his neighborhood, his focus changed during the summer. He believes the quality of life for future Waddell Crossing residents would be hampered by less than two parking spots per unit, a lack of job opportunities nearby and a complex far from any links to public transportation.

“All you’re doing is creating a problem for future residents,” Schulzke said. “They start using nationwide comparisons and I told them, ‘You don’t live in Arizona. A household needs two cars.’”

Waddell Crossing was scheduled to be heard at the Aug. 19 meeting Surprise Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. However Dominium on Aug. 5 requested a continuation of this hearing until an unspecified later date.

It is a proposed $200 million-plus 44-acre project, with 20 acres planned for the family community, 8 acres for the senior component and 16 acres planned for commercial development. It calls for a 392-unit family community and a 221-unit senior living community with affordable housing in both, including some for families who qualify under Section 42.

“We don’t divulge specifics on current invested capital, but it is definitely high six figures between us and our partner, the seller, who is developing the commercial. Obviously once we begin construction and roadway improvements it will greatly increase,” stated Owen Metz, Dominium vice president and project partner for development in the Mountain West Region.

Metz said the smaller senior community would have 1.4 parking spaces per unit, while the family community has 1.92 per unit.

Dominium government relations associate Sarah Shambrook stated in an email the company has a history of managing and operating affordable housing with more than 35,000 units total. It collected data from those communities, surveyed a total of 32 Valley properties and did parking counts at 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., and hired a traffic engineer for a parking analysis.

“Our average resident/family does not have two cars. The average unit has 1.4 driving adults,” Metz said.

MORE ON TRANSPORTATION

Dominium is asking for Surprise’s approval on these parking allotments, which are lower than city requirements. Both Metz and Shambrook said the parking requirement — in the 2.25 spaces per unit range — is one of the highest they have encountered.

The company’s concern is adding that number of spaces, that their research proves unnecessary, would sacrifice green space and room for resident amenities.

One area of close common ground between the project’s opponents and proponents is traffic in the area. Cactus and Waddell roads already is bogged down during school and work commute times, as is 175th Avenue between those arterials.

Waddell Crossing is one of seven housing developments planned or underway on the block bounded by Waddell and Cactus, plus Cotton Lane on the east and 175th Avenue on the west. It is the highest density project, although another rental property with smaller detached homes also is planned.

“It’s a nightmare right now traffic-wise,” nearby resident Nate Pomeroy said. “This project would add 15 minutes to a commute each way if you leave at the wrong time.”

Three charter schools — Legacy Traditional-West Surprise, Paradise Honors Middle School and Paradise Honors High School — are in this block. Each tends to draw car traffic twice a day since they are not “neighborhood” public schools.

Pomeroy and his wife moved to Sarah Ann Ranch, the community west of 175th Avenue in the area, from Scottsdale 2 1/2 years ago. They were under no illusions about housing development nearby, particularly the largely open city block to the east.

A density of a bit more than 20 units per acre in the two residential areas will add too many people to an already overburdened city, he said.

“My special concern was that we’re falling further behind in terms of recreation options, and the density of this project will only add to that,” Pomeroy said.

Schulzke said the density for the entire city block is problematic. Sierra Montana, which is north of Waddell, is affected by what’s on that corner particularly during the school year when there is school drop off and people heading to jobs.

Shambrook stated a main takeaway from the conversations with the neighborhood is the traffic and undeveloped nature of Waddell Road. She and Metz said Dominium is working with the city to find a solution to the entire road, not just the portion in front of its proposed development.

The city’s lack of public transport links, with the nearest bus stop just east of Grand Avenue on Bell Road, is another concern of the Voice of Surprise group members. Metz said the assumption a majority of prospective residents would need public transportation points to a fundamental misunderstanding of typical Dominium residents.

“The person that works at Fry’s and first-year police and fire employees need a place to live that are reasonably priced,” Metz said. “We’ve also talked with Ford and other dealerships nearby.”

He said the lowest rent within a 1-mile radius of the Waddell Crossing site is about $2,000 a month. Dominium, by contrast, would offer a one-bedroom apartment for $850 a month and a three-bedroom apartment for $1,150-to-$1,200 monthly.

As both company representatives pointed out, Surprise, more than most Valley communities, has an acute need for affordable rental options. The city’s median home price of was $363,701 as of June, and only 3% of the Surprise’s housing stock is rental.

Even the majority of vocal Voice of Surprise organizers agree about the need for an affordable housing complex. They just do not agree with this location.

“If you’re going to put an apartment complex somewhere, it’s not a good idea to have it on the outskirts,” Pomeroy said. “I know the importance of having affordable housing in the city, and having it close to employment areas.”

Metz said this line of thinking is built on misconceptions of future residents and the company building their apartments.

LONG-TERM PROJECTIONS

Schulzke said he believes the density and what he considers a lack of adequate parking point to a developer trying to maximize profits at the expense of residents’ quality of life.

He said he’s witnessed a similar issue within Sierra Montana at an enclosed apartment complex called the Missions. He said those units, closer to town homes, were built in a way that residents could not keep their large garbage cans anywhere but in their garage.

Metz said Waddell Crossing would be built with residents in mind and that Dominium does not build apartments then hand them off in a couple years. Typically the Minnesota-based company manages its communities at least 15 years.

“We’re very much looking at the long term. Building a product that is going to stand the test of time goes into all our developments,” said Metz, who recently moved to the Valley. “We wouldn’t have opened a 20-person office here if we weren’t planning to be here a long time.”

Current opponents and the company also point to divergent studies on what this type of complex will do to valuations on nearby homes.

“The one thing I caught them on at that first meeting was when they said that it will increase your home value. There are studies that show it raises home values in lower-income areas only. They did not have much of an answer,” Schulzke said.

Shambrook stated the following facts on Dominium projects thus far:

• Residents are overwhelming female — 75% across its mountain west portfolio and 50% have a high school or associates degree.
• Residents on average stay four years, and the communities generally serve as a steppingstone for working individuals looking to better their lives.
• Residents pay their rent. This is not Section 8 subsidized housing. Only 4% of Dominium residents are using housing assistance vouchers.

“I’d argue it’s harder to qualify for one of our apartments than it is for a mortgage,” Metz said.

Pomeroy said most people he talked with are opposed and want to see a different project on this site. They believe there is a more suitable location for apartments with Section 42 component.

“That could be a single-family development, which would make a lot of people happy,” Pomeroy said. “The parking is a form of leverage to help point out all of these problems.”

Schulzke proposed the Surprise Civic Center or on another undeveloped parcel closer to Bell. Pomeroy said he realizes there are fewer parcels in the main area of Surprise that are not spoken for, but said there are a couple areas further north and east closer to more jobs and less commutes.

Shambrook stated Surprise’s planning department already identified this land was a good spot for denser multifamily development. Additionally, the site is in a federally designated Difficult to Develop Area, and the DDA designations allows a development to function economically at the lower rent levels that residents pay.

“What we like about the site is highway access and commerce coming to the area along the 303. There will be a need for a workforce there and a need for their housing,” Metz said. “There’s not a lot of properties in this area entitled and zoned for multifamily.”

Since nearby residents first talked, leading to the Voice of Surprise website and Tuesday night Zoom meetings, the early assumption was opposition to Waddell Crossing would be concentrated in the developments less than a block or two away. It has not.

Pomeroy and Schulzke said the group received signatures from communities further away like Asante, Sun City Grand, Sun Village and Surprise Farms.

“I’m trying to map it out, mostly because I want every city council member to realize their constituents still have concerns,” Schulzke said.

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