A Gilbert landowner asking the town to downsize a planned urban village is now seeking public assistance to jump-start the project.
Jeff Cooley, a farmer leading the design of the Village Center at Williams Field and Recker roads, told the Planning and Zoning Commission during this week’s work-study session that the concept similar to Tempe’s Mill Avenue cannot compete with nearby retail projects.
"The market has changed and we have to adjust to the market," Cooley said.
Cooley has asked for a major general plan amendment to add more single-family homes, while reducing retail and office space within a 700-acre area of the Cooley Station masterplanned community.
The roughly 100-acre Village Center was planned as an urban, pedestrian-oriented setting with nightlife, theaters, lofts and shops to serve the growing student body at Arizona State University East and Williams Gateway Airport area work force.
So far, all that’s been guaranteed is a grassy area.
"The Village Center was pitched as Mill Avenue East, now it’s being pitched as a town green or community gathering place," commissioner James Beene said. "That’s a long way from Mill Avenue."
Commissioner Shane Leonard had a different take. "I’m hesitant to pattern it after Mill Avenue. Most of the stuff I read about Mill Avenue is it’s not doing so hot."
Cooley said the town should consider placing a public building at the site, paying for existing power lines to run underground through the Village Center, or offering sales tax rebate incentives.
"If they think this is so great, what are they willing to do for us?" Cooley said.
A market feasibility analysis commissioned by Cooley listed numerous challenges to the Village Center site, including lack of freeway access and visibility, limited Power Road exposure and its proximity to other major retail centers.
Robert Charles Lesser and Co. vice president Terrye Underwood, whose Los Angeles firm prepared the market study, said there are no plans to place a "big-box" retailer in the Village Center despite previous claims by the town. Gilbert stands by its position that the proposal calls for lifting the ban on the big-box stores.
An August report submitted by the applicant to the town states, "We should not summarily eliminate big-box discount retailers."
The Gilbert planning department has yet to issue a re commendation on the amendment.
"We’re not exactly sure what it is they are proposing," Gilbert planning director Jerry Swanson said.
The commission is expected to vote on the general plan request on Oct. 20. The Gilbert Town Council will make the final decision later this year.