Mesa welcomes plans for urban housing downtown - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa welcomes plans for urban housing downtown

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Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2012 6:06 pm | Updated: 11:22 am, Sun Feb 26, 2012.

The Metro light rail extension into downtown Mesa has helped spur several proposals for new urban housing developments on or near Main Street, involving several hundred apartments.

The proposals include a high-profile lot across from the Mesa Arts Center, while redeveloping two other sites that have been in decline for decades.

Mesa welcomed some of the plans because they could create momentum for redevelopment in some of the city’s older areas. But a proposal for subsidized senior housing by the arts center drew sharp criticism from City Council members who think light rail will justify more upscale development.

One proposal would bring life back to the Escobedo neighborhood, where the city closed 101 apartments in 2007 for low-income seniors. The city-owned apartments housed military personnel in World War II, but Mesa evicted residents after determining it couldn’t afford growing maintenance costs on the aging buildings.

Now, Gorman & Company is proposing to demolish most of the buildings to build a 124-unit, mixed-income development northeast of Center Street and University Drive.

Councilman Christopher Glover represents that area and said neighbors support the plan.

“I think this will be a game changer for the entire neighborhood,” he said.

Gorman would restore a portion of the old buildings while investing $18.2 million on the entire project.

Mesa’s City Council agreed Thursday to support Gorman’s plan to apply for tax credits from the Arizona Department of Housing. Gorman must apply with the state by March 1 to be considered for this year’s round of tax credits. If that plan doesn’t work out, a second developer has another redevelopment plan that it would submit for next year’s tax credits.

A more controversial plan would replace a parking lot next to Mesa City Hall with a five-story apartment building for low-income seniors. The project would remove parking for top city officials — including the City Council. The elected officials said they’d gladly surrender their parking privileges for a quality project but were split on the best use of land across from the arts center.

Councilwoman Dina Higgins said downtown should be the arts Mecca of the West, which should create demand for nicer housing. Downtown needs housing for students and professors at downtown university campuses that are planned, she added. Higgins said she wants a downtown so vibrant that homeowners in the upscale Las Sendas area would be willing to move to urban housing along Main Street.

“Subsidized housing isn’t going to do that,” Higgins said.

Vice Mayor Scott Somers and Mayor Scott Smith agreed, but a narrow majority of the council agreed to let the developer apply for state tax credits.

The council also agreed to move forward with a proposal that would allow the social service agency A New Leaf to redevelop the La Mesita homeless shelter at 2254 W. Main St. The old motel would become a multi-story, 124-unit apartment complex with a 16-bed shelter.

The redevelopment projects would all require some city funds, but the amount isn’t yet known. City Manager Chris Brady cautioned some proposals could die if the state rejects tax credit applications. Also, developers would have to meet city requirements.

“Even after today, there’s a tremendous amount of work that would have to be done on any of these projects,” Brady said.

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