Pushing the boundary in the north: Peoria residents have concerns about new development

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Very little private land remains in Peoria west of Vistancia, where roads and infrastructure have yet to built.

However, developers are working through the permitting process right now to make way for more than 800 lots on 280 acres along the northwest border of the sprawling city.

The proposed community borders Trilogy at Vistancia and some residents have concerns ranging from not receiving notification of the project to school overcrowding that could result from this and other ongoing home builds.

The Peoria City Council is expected consider, on Feb. 18, a general plan land amendment and rezone of the property, which is located west of the Ridgeline Road and 135th Avenue intersection, and southwest of the Ridgeline and Dysart roads intersection.

An approval would allow for the development of up to 838 lots in a single-family community known as the Cowley Property.

The builder is Mattamy Homes, which has a number of homes in the area.

Pending approval, construction is expected to begin around summertime, with first homes projected to close in 2022 and build-out expected over the following four years.

City planner Amanda Beck said staff has worked very closely with the applicant for over a year to regarding various impacts that might develop because of the proposal.

The plan meets and exceeds the goals of the general plan, she said.

“Staff believes that the applicant’s property development standards, their amenities and the improvement timing that is proposed aligns with the goals of the general plan,” she said. “Additionally, the design standards would continue the existing character pattern we see in this area of the city.”

Residents, many from the neighboring Vistancia community, have voiced their thoughts on a number of issues including water, traffic, wildlife and the need for a school.

Disclosure

For some, the idea of a new, large master-planned development came out of nowhere.

Nearby Vistancia resident Mark Charpentier was told absolutely no development would be occurring in that area, he said.

“We know development is going to occur. I mean, it’s just a fact of life,” he said. “I grew up in southern California and lived in Oregon. And in Oregon we have a little bit more stringent development restrictions. So this is pretty reasonable, but my primary concern is not getting the disclosure. Not getting the notices was disconcerting to us. So we weren’t able to give input in the beginning.”

Joel Resnick, who moved from Illinois to Vistancia a few months ago said news of a large development going up next door was new to him.

“One of reasons we love it out here is that we found a nice remote spot in the northwest corner of Peoria with dark skies with very little congestion,” he said. “We didn’t go to central Peoria or Westbrook Village. We came out here for the limited light pollution. We came out here for the quality of life, to live in a remote area and now it seems like all of that is changing. These were our dreams as retirees. It’s very troubling.”

This permitting process requires all property owners within a quarter of a mile of the site and registered HOAs within one mile of the site be notified, according to city rules. Officials said Peoria sends notifications over a far larger radius than state statute requires, which is 300 feet or one-twentieth of a mile. Ms. Beck said notifications were properly sent out using addresses pulled from Maricopa County Assessor data, a common practice for cases like the Cowley property. 

It is never the intention to leave a resident out of the participation process and it is also why the city requires the applicant post the site at two locations and hold a neighborhood meeting, she said.

Officials said the project was also listed in a public report from the Vistancia HOA.

“Because this application took such a long time from submittal to public hearing, staff went through the process to update all the addresses when we sent out the public hearing postcard in the off-chance that parcels were sold from the HOA or developer to an actual resident,” Ms. Beck said. 

“We send it to the mailing address for the property owner. It is not the property address because we do have residents who are only part time residents. So if they aren’t in state they won’t receive a notice. If an address is not updated with the Maricopa County Assessor, we aren’t able to know where to send the postcard. We only send to the information provided by the assessor's office.”

Overcrowding schools

The Peoria Unified School District, which would serve the Cowley Property, is struggling to keep up with growth in the northern part of the city and thousands of new homes are projected in the area in the years to come, resulting in children who will need public schooling. 

To help pay for growth, developers may provide $1,000 per home at the close of escrow that may be used by the district for capital projects, such as new schools. But developers are not required to do this, and with the failure of three measures at the ballot box since 2016 to fund schools above what the state provides, some nearby residents fear the district won’t have the funding to build a school in the area.

Jim Willis, a resident of Trilogy, said with all the housing communities and many homes still to be built in the north and schools overcrowding, this makes for a big problem. 

City officials said the district and the developer are currently in talks about a developer’s assistance agreement.

“Now you’re going have 800 homes and another 600 homes north of Lone Mountain. That’s a whole other elementary school. And where is it? Big problem,” he said. “I would petition you to ask the developers to work with the school district with cash so they can build a school up there. It will be tough to sell homes. Where are the kids going to go to school?”

Commissioner Clay Allsop said developers may make voluntary contribution for schools and other capital improvements for the district, but those contributions should remain voluntary.

“In regards to the developer assistant agreements, I think it is great that the developers are working with the school district. I just want to make my position clear that if developers wish to assist the school district,  that’s great. But I would be uncomfortable withholding our approval on condition of that voluntary contribution, otherwise it doesn’t seem very voluntary to me,” Mr. Allsop said. “Cowley properties is the current property owner and we’ve heard a lot of conversations about other land owner’s rights. But I want to highlight that the owner of the property today was there before the owners of Vistancia. They have landowners rights as well.”

Sizable development

The northern part of the city has seen expansive growth in recent years.

While the proposed development pales in comparison to the massive neighboring 7,100-acre Vistancia, the Cowley property is quite larger than the surrounding communities in the works — Haciendas at White Peak, Sonoran Place and Granite Hills, all of which range from 40 to 60 acres.  

Other larger developments in north Peoria include Lake Pleasant Heights at 3,268 acres, Saddleback Heights at 6,052 acres, and Trilogy West at 360 acres.

Planning Director Chris Jacques said that after the Cowley rezone, there is little private land west of Vistancia. Most of the area beyond Cowley is owned by the Arizona State Land Department and located in Surprise or within the Surprise Planning Area, he said.

“Since the Great Recession, we haven’t seen a lot of new large master planned communities like Vistancia submitted for entitlement. Most of the projects are smaller and mid-size,” he said.

“The Cowley rezone is certainly the largest entitlement moving through the pipeline at this time, but nowhere near the size of previous large master-planned communities.”

Conservation development

The Cowley property is vacant and undeveloped, formerly a mining operation that is no longer in use. It is surrounded by other housing projects as well as private land and Arizona State Land Department land.

The proposal calls for three proposed lot sizes, with some planned for the foothills: 5,175 square feet, 6,050 square feet, and 8,450 square feet.

Applicant representative Hillary Turby, senior planner at ABLA, said these sizes are similar to the surrounding communities and the project has a maximum density of three units per acre and a net open space of about 30%.

“We are pleased to present this PAD for the Cowley Property to facilitate the development of a cohesively designed single family residential  community characterized by diverse product types and home sizes in a setting that is responsive to the natural environment,” she said.

“This project is designed as a conservation subdivision, which means it has placed the lots in the most developable positions of the project area while preserving important parts of the natural environment, including a major wash that runs north and south across the property over major hillside areas to the west of the property and at the northwest corner. We’ve tried really hard to sensitively plan the development to create developable areas that preserve as much natural open space as possible. That is a key feature of this site.”

Unique elements

The property includes several unique natural features including a decommissioned mine site, hillside elements, and washes — the most significant of which runs the entire length of the property.

Ms. Turby said that to the greatest extent possible, washes and significant hillside areas are proposed to be preserved in a natural state.

Reports indicate the mining activities occurred between 1996 and 2007. The mine was excavated for rocks used in decorative landscaping and construction materials.

The developer will be required to submit a mine reclamation plan that outlines the intended use of the mine property and required remediation, which will be submitted with the first preliminary plat for the south parcel of the property.

Mr. Jacques said mines are generally re-graded, or filled, and re-vegetated so they can be placed back into productive use.

“Essentially, the mine reclamation plan provides information on the inactive operations, structures, soils and slope conditions, and a plan to put the area back into productive use. It addresses items such as total disturbance, evaluation of slope stability, re-grading and erosion control, structures to be removed, access restrictions, topsoil conservation plan and a revegetation plan,” he said.

Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, phaldiman@newszap.com, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.

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