SUBSCRIBER EXCLUSIVE

Dominium affordable housing passes 1st test in Surprise

Planning commission approves Preliminary Development Plan

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The proposed Truman Ranch Marketplace affordable housing community, south of Waddell Avenue between 171st and 175th avenues, has never been par for the course, either in concept or the breadth of its opposition.

That continued during the June 16 Surprise Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. Representatives of Minnesota-based developer Dominium Inc., presented the Preliminary Development Plan for Truman Ranch Marketplace instead of the more common Planned Area Development presentations for newer communities.

Following eight residents and one former land owner now living in California speaking against the PDP and an Area Agency on Aging representative speaking in favor, the commission voted 6-0 to approve the plan.

Deputy City Attorney Ellen Van Riper said each individual use in the proposal  will have its own site plan, which will be considered individually in public hearings. She was responding to former land owner Steven Truman, who worried the June 16 meeting was the final chance for public comment on the proposal.

“The concerns that we have and you have won’t really be addressed at this meeting, but will be down the road at future meetings,” commissioner Kevin Sartor said.

Since the public became aware of the project in spring 2021, opponents organized their case at voiceofsurprise.com.

Eight residents of neighboring developments spoke out against Truman Ranch Marketplace Thursday night.

Traffic backups and related safety issues at area schools were their primary concerns, along with building heights and Dominium’s track record.

“The strategy changed ... because they’re now complying with the PAD, and it’s specific to that,” Sierra Montana HOA board member Quintus Schulzke said. “Safety is a concern, and we need to address that. People have said they are concerned if they have a medical episode when school gets out.”

Other residents implied Dominium’s community would increase crime in the area of Western Surprise and torpedo their property values.

“A lot of us are here fighting for our property values. We believe this will cause harm. In fact, it’s proven,” Nate Pomeroy said.

Pamela Tufegdzic said the roots of the shortage of affordable housing and increased homelessness can be traced to the current federal government’s lax border policies.

She also cited Dominium residents in Minnesota and their complaints of mold, rats and crime.

“I would much rather see low-income housing than homeless. But I would ask everyone to look at the BBB complaints about Dominium. I do not believe they’re the right fit,” Kathleen Eby said.

Dominium requested a continuation on this project at an August 2021 meeting. A changed overall project was resubmitted in April.

The changes to Truman Ranch Marketplace meant it no longer required a major PAD amendment.

The original plan called for 613 units, while the new PDP has a cap of 601 units after the commission asked that limit to be memorialized in the document.

Susan Demmitt with Phoenix-based attorney Gammage and Burnham represented Dominium at the meeting.

“Admittedly, the development concept for this property in 2008 was different. I don’t think what you’re looking at today is what the land owner originally conceived,” she said.

“But it was clear in the PAD that it was to evolve with time. We’ve taken great care to see that the site plan and the development plan meet those requirements.”

She said the revised PDP is within the Truman Ranch PAD’s density of up to 21 units per acre.

The maximum building height of 50 feet is now at the southwestern half of the development after the senior community was moved away from Cotton Lane. The larger but shorter, three-story family development is planned to be 35 feet on the eastern section of the property.

“That was a substantial change to the application, but I give credit to Dominium for doing this without sacrificing the amount of open space or amenities,” Demmitt said.

Town home options have been added to the family area, which also features a fitness center, play areas, clubhouse and cabana.

The senior living area would have two, four-story interlocking towers. The age 55-plus community would total 213 units.

Cindy Saverino, with the Region One Area Agency on Aging, said there’s is a lack of diversity of housing options for seniors. She is noticing an rise in the number of older homeless adults that have been priced out of the Valley market.

“This proposed development will house members of our community that have dedicated their lives to the community,” Saverino said. “We must work together to provide more housing options for these individuals.”

For the most part, residential development would precede the commercial area of Truman Ranch Marketplace.

But Wendy Riddell of Scottsdale-based firm Berry Riddell LLC said businesses interested in the commercial parcel filed four conditional use permits with the city.

Dunkin Donuts, Freddy’s Steakburgers and a self-storage unit are committed.

Riddell suggested the commercial development may not be far behind residential.

Architecture and setbacks will be reviewed further at site plan hearings, as will lighting and the self storage.

Demitt said more of the complaints she’s heard from residents have been lifestyle concerns that have  long since been decided.

“A lot of what we were hearing were usually land use concerns, and focused on the 2008 land use decision,” Demmitt said.

The commission went into executive session for about 10 minutes.

In an email sent after the meeting, Schulzke stated that Dominium’s strategy to stay “within their right” and comply strictly with an outdated 2008 PAD moved one step closer to approval.

“After the meeting, I and others caught up with Vice Chair Kevin Sartor, and Commissioners Carpenter, Smith, and Keating, and you could sense their frustration too after researching and hearing everyone’s concerns that they had no avenue to challenge it,” Schulzke stated. “Susan Demitt, Dominium’s lawyer, openly admitted tonight that they knew by following a strict compliance strategy that they were not fulfilling the vision or intentions of what the Truman Ranch PAD had outlined such as developments trying to keep to a “ranch feel” or style. Worse yet, Dominium’s shameless path of legal compliance abruptly negated every friendly negotiation they had with the Trumans, and moved their towering 50-foot senior center to the southwest corner now guaranteeing that the Truman Ranch home built in 1946 will never see another Arizona sunrise.”

James Truman lives on the 15 remaining acres of Truman Ranch next door.

He said he’s been neutral on the project since the beginning, though some of his comments may have belied that.

Earlier in June he sent a letter to the commission listing his issues with the project.

Truman said the building design and concept has gone out the window and that setback parking structures etc that are within the 45 foot setback.

He also said he was concerned about light pollution, as well as the self storage unit that is 2.5 acres under roof and more in total when considering the open-air units. He said the total acerage is more than allowed by city code.

“We think there’s a lot of issues here. It’s probably here to stay, if not this it’s probably another high-density project,” James Truman said.

As of now, the PDP is scheduled to go before the Surprise City Council for a vote at its Aug. 16 meeting.

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