Housing moves to front of Surprise General Plan process

The land use map for Surprise’s General Plan 2035, which is the city’s main planning document until the 2040 update is completed.
The land use map for Surprise’s General Plan 2035, which is the city’s main planning document until the 2040 update is completed.
(Map courtesy city of Surprise)

Surprise’s General Plan 2040 update process is a big picture procedure set in place years ago and does not divert based on recent developments.

But this summer’s phase of the process dovetails
nicely with some local and Valley- wide issues in the housing market.

Surprise is conducting a housing needs analysis and
market demand study.

Residents have two opportunities to voice concerns about existing conditions and express opinions about potential affordable housing initiatives, at 2 and 6 p.m. Monday, April 10, in the Community Room in Surprise City Hall, 16000 N. Civic Center Plaza.

Then the Surprise 2040 General Plan Advisory Group will meet Tuesday, April 11. This group’s sixth meeting will focus on housing, as well as open space and arts and culture.

“The general plan addresses housing from a high-level land-use perspective, providing polices and guidelines that balance development and conservation, ensure that infrastructure is maximized, and that adequate distribution of services, employment, open space and recreation are provided in proximity to where people live. It does not address pricing models for housing,” stated Lloyd Abrams, Surprise Community Development Director, in an email.

Housing also was the hottest topic of a Feb. 23 joint meeting of the Surprise City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission. While open to other discussions, the meeting focused on the general plan.

Matt Klyszeiko, a project manager and senior planner with Phoenix-based Michael Baker International, led part of the presentation at the February meeting.

With many housing developments approved in the early 2000s now lining up to build, the question is not whether Surprise can slow its growth trajectory.

“It’s understood that from 2040 and out that Surprise will be one of, if not the, largest cities in the West Valley,” Klyszeiko said.

The goal of this general plan update is to strategically bolster the quality of life in current growth areas, while anticipating the future growth north and west of the current city boundaries and improving transportation links as housing comes in.

Surprise does not want a repeat of the current conditions north of the intersection of 163rd and Grand avenues. Housing is pouring into this neighborhood, which is largely cut off from the rest of the city, except for a Loop 303 interchange plagued by traffic jams.

“North Surprise has to live and stand on its own,” planning commissioner Dennis Bash said. “It has to have hospital facilities, medical office facilities, fire stations and police substations. It has to have all of the amenities of a city until this transportation issue is squared away.”

To that end, the first grocery store in that neighborhood, a Fry’s Marketplace, opened just before the joint meeting.

“We opened a Fry’s last night, or yesterday morning at 6:45. There were over 200 people in the rain and wind waiting for that store to open,” Mayor Skip Hall said. “The more we create shopping locally it’s better.”

Nick Haney began his term as council member for District 1 in northern Surprise in January, and said the need for smart growth north of 163rd and speeding up the timetable for transportation links to Loop 303 other than Grand are the primary goals of residents.

It is another case of the scattershot growth patterns that have hampered the city this century, as Surprise grew a bit in every direction before infrastructure and city services were equipped to handle the new developments.

Councilors Ken Remley and Aly Cline both want infill development prioritized in the plan and in the city’s current decisions.

“One of things that bugs me about state lands and such is we have pockets we have grown over and passed. So many cities in the West Valley go through it ... where you’ll see neighborhoods that were developed 20 years ago and a bare piece of land next to it. I think if we have a greater priority to get some of these spaces filled, we already have infrastructure there,” Remley said.

But clear housing needs in the Valley are pushing growth in the opposite direction. Planning commission chairman Dennis Sartor said Maricopa County is in a housing crisis.

While the response has been a boom in multifamily projects Valley-wide, the price of those apartments and condos is an issue — particularly in a city with a median household income of $72,000.

“We’ve added lots of high end-type apartments, or at least I’d consider it that,” Smith said. “We can talk about that we want affordable housing but if our employers are paying $10 an hour, they can’t afford anything.”

As Hall put it in February, rents are not much better in Surprise than, say, San Mateo, California, south of San Francisco.

Bash said Surprise needs to plot out how much affordable housing it needs and what areas of town should be set aside.

“The city does not treat housing differently based on the pricing to live in it. The city ensures compliance with our zoning; looking strictly at the use, not the business model to build or finance the housing,” Abrams stated.

The zoning at times poses other problems, said District 3 Council Member Patrick Duffy. In the wake of the two-year battle about Dominium’s affordable housing development in that district, feelings on the subject remain raw.

Duffy said plans for future housing projects need to be in areas with adequate roads.

“Affordable housing is something a lot of people don’t have a problem with, unless it’s next to them,” Councilor Jack Hastings said.

Human Services and Community Vitality Director Seth Dyson said the housing study should be done in the middle of June.

The consensus at the joint meeting was, the type of growth Surprise sees in its future need to be a product of transportation, annexation and especially water.

Otherwise, the city may tilt further to the bedroom community end of the spectrum while quality jobs land in other Valley suburbs.

“Communities that have come to Surprise, they’re not only bringing their CFO, they’re bringing their HR director. And the reason they’re bringing their HR director is because they’re answering the question, ‘What’s the quality of life like for potential employees that are going to move here?’” Hall said. “We’re competing with other Valley cities.”