Mesa senior housing project under fire again - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Mesa senior housing project under fire again

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Posted: Friday, June 8, 2012 7:55 am

Two Mesa City Council members are criticizing what they call a rush job on a planned senior housing project in downtown, saying it’s bad policy for the city and the public to have just 24 hours to review a development proposal.

Vice Mayor Scott Somers and Councilwoman Dina Higgins objected to an 81-unit building for low-income residents that came up for a vote Thursday. The plan by Mesa Housing Associates had been around for several months, but the specifics had only been developed a day before. The proposal involves selling 2.4 acres of city-owned land at 25 W. First Avenue for $180,000.

Somers compared the short review time to the controversial strike-all bills at the Legislature, where lawmakers can wipe out every word of a bill and replace it with unrelated legislation. The strike-all bills are sometimes introduced without being vetted by legislative committees and they often are produced just before a vote is to be taken.

“I don’t think there’s anything suspicious or nefarious in this, as you see at the state level,” Somers said. “But when you rush to judgment without thorough due diligence, my concern is mistakes and the lack of an open process.”

The senior project first emerged in February, on a city-owned parking lot east of City Hall. A narrow majority of the council approved the idea. Three members objected to the plan because they wanted more lively uses along Main Street. The Mesa Chamber of Commerce also spoke against the location, saying Main Street has potential for more. Opponents generally liked the project — as long as it wasn’t on Main.

A new site was revealed Monday. City officials are moving the plan along quickly so it can meet state deadlines to qualify for a grant. To get that funding, the project must break ground by Nov. 1.

Higgins raised concerns about the quick timeline, whether the project is a good fit for downtown and if the developer could build something different than what’s proposed now.

Scot Rigby, Mesa’s economic development project manager, said it would be nearly impossible for the project to change significantly based on how soon construction must begin.

The project’s supporters like the five-story building’s modern architecture that will come up to the sidewalk to create an urban feel. It represents one of the first developer-driven buildings — as opposed to the multiple taxpayer-funded projects — to be built downtown in many years.

Somers said he opposes the subsidized housing downtown because Mesa should promote higher-end uses downtown. He said the city needs to invite proposals for market-rate housing downtown, office space and other uses.

The senior housing project was an unsolicited project, which some saw as a sign that the downtown is on the rise. Somers reads more into it.

“We took the first thing thrown at us,” he said.

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