Low-income apartments on Metro line face opposition - East Valley Tribune: Tempe

Low-income apartments on Metro line face opposition

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Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2012 3:19 pm

A proposed low-income housing development along the Metro light rail line in Tempe is facing stiff opposition from neighbors who have otherwise been eager to see new projects.

Neighbors have spent a year fighting a four-story apartment and retail building called Gracie’s Village, which would replace the single-story Gracie’s thrift store on Apache Boulevard. The site is flanked by two neighborhoods with historic designations.

The City Council will decide the fate of Gracie’s Village May 31. A recent hearing on the plan generated complaints that the project would set the stage for multi-level buildings to tower over all the neighborhoods that back up to Apache Boulevard in Tempe.

Longtime community activist Phil Amorosi said Tempe should follow the lead of other cities that have recently rejected high-profile plans to place big projects next to existing neighborhoods.

“We want the City Council to have our back,” he said.

Grace Community Church owns the 2-acre site and is working with Wisconsin-based Gorman & Company on the proposed 50-apartment building west of McClintock Drive. The building would include retail space for Gracie’s on the ground level.

The original plan called for a six-story building with 75 units, but Gorman scaled it back in response to neighbors’ concerns. Gorman would hire a professional management company to ensure the project serves people who work in Tempe but can’t afford to live there, said Manjula Vaz, the developer’s attorney.

“It’s not for students and it’s not for poor people who want to live together,” Vaz said. “It’s for families.”

The housing is for families with incomes of about $18,000 to $52,000.

The 50-unit plan has more density than the current zoning allows, but Vaz said it fits with the vision the city has for the area as defined in the voter-approved general plan.

Some neighbors support the plan because they say it’s a better use for the site and would make it easier for low-income people who work in Tempe to also live there. They also cited the church’s charitable contributions to the community.

Eldon Smith said he supports the plan after coming to like another controversial development that he once opposed. Smith said his neighborhood fought plans for the former Rural School site at the northeast corner of Southern Avenue and McClintock Drive, but that many people have come to appreciate what’s there now.

“It had a lot of merits that I was unaware of at the time, and now I can just walk a block to shop at Fry’s,” Smith said.

Kevin Helseth was critical of the management company that would run Gracie’s Village, citing another Tempe apartment complex it runs. An artistic face on the side of the two-story Cabana on McClintock looks like a sex offender, he said.

“It is the most awful, ugly building in the history of ugly buildings,” Helseth said.

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