Split Surprise council vote delays development

Vistas Montanas issue continued to January

These proposed amendments to the Vistas Montanas development would add 103 home, and reduce a bit more than half of the homes in the development to lots 45 feet or 55 feet wide.
These proposed amendments to the Vistas Montanas development would add 103 home, and reduce a bit more than half of the homes in the development to lots 45 feet or 55 feet wide.
[Courtesy city of Surprise]

A decision on a proposed housing development in the northwest corner of Surprise will wait until January when the recently elected councilman for the area is seated to break a deadlock.

During its Sept. 21 meeting, the city council was split on a proposed amendment to the Vistas Montanas planned-area development. The amendment to the zoning approved in 2008, would shrink the majority of the lot sizes, adding 103 homes for a total of 533, and also adding open space.

“We’re trying to introduce a viable project that won’t be sitting another 14 years,” said applicant Jeff Farr with RVI Planning & Landscape Architecture.

Councilman Patrick Duffy made an motion to deny the amendments and was joined by councilmembers Aly Cline and Ken Remley, Mayor Skip Hall and councilmen Jack Hastings and Chris Judd voted to keep the amendments.

With Councilman Roland Winters absent, the 3-3 vote left the project in limbo. Hastings suggested continuing the discussion and vote to January when Winters is replaced by Nick Haney as District 1 councilman, as the Vistas Montanas owner representative agreed to continue the discussion until the second council meeting in January.

Councilors voting against the amendment, and even ones voting for it, voiced a similar concern. Passing the amendment would add more than 100 homes at the end of a one-way route and more than 200 cars needing to take 163rd Avenue most — if not all — the way south to Grand Avenue to connect with the rest of the Valley.

“To go up 103 lots, why is that necessary? Sell me on that,” Duffy said.

Under the amendment, 177 lots would be 45 feet wide, plus an additional 119 lots that are 55 feet wide. Nothing less than 65 feet wide was planned in the original PAD.
The other two councilors voting against the changes also took issue with the large number of smaller lots.

“I like increased open space. I do not decreased lot sizes to 45. I think that’s very small for housing. I don’t see where there is parking around the pocket parks,” Cline said. “Lastly I don’t see a pool. When you don’t have pool space for even small communities like this, people all the way up there at the top end of Surprise would have to come all the way down here to have swimming lessons and access to pool services,”

Judd, Hall and Hastings all expressed reservations about holding up this development because of a shortfall in roads that has been an issue well before these changes were proposed.

But that does not erase the extra burden that comes with each new home.

“Grand Avenue is a massive choke point between the [Loop] 303 and 163rd, and as it stands right now there’s no plan to fix it. The state was working on a solution, which fell apart,” Judd said, adding he was reluctant to approve without a financial plan to relieve the traffic.

This original site plan for the Vistas Montanas development in northwest Surprise was approved in 2008. [Courtesy city of Surprise]

Vistas Montanas is planned between 171st avenue and 179th avenue, and between Peakview Road and Dixileta Drive. Residents would take 163rd north to Jomax Road, Jomax west to 171st Avenue, and 171st north Peakview.

“There is no road to the east. We still don’t have right of way for Dale Lane or Peakview,” said Lloyd Abrams, Surprise’s assistant director of community development.

Raymond Grim, who lives in Desert Oasis to the south of this area, said 171st is backed up in mornings already because of the Desert Oasis residents.

“One of the biggest issues we have is all those houses between Desert Oasis and this new development are mostly horse properties,” Grim said. “What we’re doing as a city is choking them off to where they can ride their horses. I brought the suggestion that they should find a way to build a horse trail that goes around this (new) community to get to the CAP Canal area and other areas.”

Dixileta is a 600-foot dirt road east of 179th Avenue and the Central Arizona Project Canal is just north and east of this small street.

Dixileta would be improved and provide another entrance if the amendments are approved.

Remley raised another issue common in this part of Surprise. The current landowner seeking the rezoning and look of this community likely will not be the group to build the development.

Farr said early in his remarks the landowner is likely to sell Vistas Montanas to a homebuilder in town.

“I’m with my colleague on these 65-foot lots. We went from 65-feet to 45-foot lots so we could increase the density, I can’t imagine how many extra millions of dollars that would make on the project,” Remley said. “If we lock it in right now, of course, he isn’t going to build it. He’s going to give it to somebody, someday. I’d rather see that person coming to us and telling us what he would like to do rather than locking in what to me is a substandard facility,”

Farr said this amended plan makes more sense today than the plan approved 14 years ago when larger lots were desirable.

The 45-feet wide lots maintain 120 feet in depth. Farr said lots on the southern portion of the development are larger because they are next to 1-acre lots on county and city land.

“One of my ongoing problems with a 45-foot lot is you can put a pool back there, you can, but that’s it,” Judd said.

Judd also brought up that the proposed 533-home development was a mere 17 homes less than the land owner’s minimum number for including a community pool.

“That was the land owner/developer’s calculation of when it becomes feasible, in their opinion, for an HOA to operation and maintain a community pool within an acceptable HOA fee,” Abrams stated in an email.

Farr said the property becomes difficult to sell until the amended plan is approved by the council.

“If we’re held hostage with a traffic issue we can’t control, that really prevents us from moving forward,” Farr said.

CivTech Inc. traffic engineer Joseph Spatafino said the study for this development did not go to as far south as 163rd Avenue and Grand because of the distance. But it did extend to 163rd and Jomax Road.

Spatafino said widening on the east side of 163rd Avenue from Grand to Happy Valley Road will allow for dual right turn lanes onto 163rd and should help.

He said the trip study assumes 10 total car trips per driver each day. By that calculation, the amendment would add between 1,200 and 1,300 more trips to the area than the PAD approved for Vistas Montanas in 2008.

RVI Planning & Landscape Architecture, Vistas Montanas, Skip Hall, Patrick Duffy, Ken Remley, Nick Haney, Chris Judd, Aly Cline