Ranch project radically revised

Apr. 30—Multifamily housing, high-end restaurants and a greenbelt over 12 football fields long are envisioned to help shield residents from the sight of light-industrial buildings with loading docks proposed for over 250 acres next to Morrison Ranch.

The development team of The Ranch project last week pitched the latest redesign that reduced light industrial uses from the original 93% down to 70% with a buffer of apartments, commercial and open space between the Elliot Groves neighborhood and the 311-acre project site on Power Road between Elliot and Warner roads.

Council tabled action on the project in November, allowing time for developer Colmena Group to work with a core group of Morrison Ranch residents on a compromise.

"It was a big industrial project," land-use attorney Sean Lake said at the April 25 neighborhood meeting, which was attended by over 40 residents. "The amount of industrial has dropped quite a bit."

The Colmena Group is now proposing a minor General Plan amendment and rezone of 39 acres for multifamily and mixed-use.

The Ranch originally intended to rezone the bulk of the acreage for light-industrial development with 7% of the land set aside for commercial uses. The light-industrial buildings would be restricted to 55 feet tall.

Lake recapped the residents' initial concerns with the original proposal. They included truck traffic, the industrial development's size and the fact it would be 30 feet from the community's property line.

He said the redesign includes 16.5 acres for open space, approximately 200 feet by 4,500 feet between Elliot Grove and the project site. That would be landscaped with grass, shrubs and trees and a trail system would run through the area, according to Lake.

The developer is proposing to set aside 26.6 acres for multifamily units in two-story buildings on 14.9 acres facing Elliot Groves and three-story buildings on 11.7 acres facing Elliot Road.

Lake explained that the multifamily units would be "nicer town homes with garages" that would be rented. Rents would over $2,000 a month.

Also in the mix is a proposal for a 9-acre mixed-used area that would include two stories of residential units above 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. The buildings' maximum height would be 45 feet.

"This is a really exciting part of the plan," Lake said. "We are trying to create a destination area for restaurants, nice restaurants... where people want to go and have fun. The types of restaurants you see in downtown Gilbert."

He said the aim is to have sit-down restaurants such as Chelsea's Kitchen and the Fox Restaurant Concepts. He added because the space is flexible, it could be expanded to accommodate more restaurants and that up to eight could be at that spot.

Additionally, three corners of the site would be set aside for general commercial uses totaling over 30 acres. Possible tenants include a specialty grocery, fitness center, retail and restaurants.

People questioned if apartments built next to light industrial can command the higher rent.

"It comes down to design," Lake responded, adding that the developer would not be pouring in a lot of money into units it can not rent.

"These are not low-end by any stretch," he said. "Building apartments in this area, it's going to rent like crazy. We're not going to have affordable, low-income here. They will be very, very popular."

A couple of people shouted out, "We hope you're right."

Lake also said that an 8-foot-tall wall and at minimum 24 feet of landscaping would separate the multifamily from the light industrial buildings.

Truck traffic is expected to use mainly Power Road with some using Warner. There would be no truck access to Elliot, Lake said.

A traffic analysis showed that under the existing zoning, there would be 45,044 daily vehicle trips compared with 28,823 generated by the proposed zoning.

In response to questions about the possible light-industrial uses on site, Lake said they include brewery, food preparation, call center, warehouses, and light assembly. What's not allowed include marijuana dispensary, adult businesses, hazardous waste facilities and heavy industrial uses.

Lake gave examples of companies currently looking for light-industrial space, which included Sysco foods, Banner hospital and Corning.

Five percent of the land — 18 acres facing the residential Warner Meadow development under construction — would have restricted light-industrial uses: the three proposed buildings would be limited to 35 feet tall with the loading docks facing away from homes.

Also, marijuana facility, crematorium, battery manufacturing and sexually oriented businesses would be banned from the site.

One person asked for the number of loading docks in the plan.

"Several hundred," Lake responded. 'There's going to be a lot. I'm not going to sit up here and diminish it."

He said the 200 acres of light industrial could have 500 to 600 docks. It was noted that 10 to 15% of the docks would be in use at any one time.

People also raised concerns about security lights bleeding into the residential neighborhood and noise from the trucks' back-up beepers.

Lake said that both nuisances would be unlikely given the distance between the light industrial buildings and Elliot Groves is 870 feet.

The developer also would do $20 million in off-site improvements, including widening Power, Warner and Elliot roads.

Lake said the project would be built in phases but the open space would be part of the first phase.

Best case scenario should the project garner town approval is for groundbreaking on the industrial portion to begin at the end of 2024 and the multifamily and mixed-used in 2025.

Colmena Group, representing the development team that includes IndiCap and Brimhall Companies, would build the residential and light industrial and investors would own them, according to Lake.

Resident Stacy Brimhall said his family has been in Gilbert for five generations.

"For our family we want to do something that benefits the community," he said. "I'm doing this for my family and the upcoming generation and I'm glad to be partnering with Colmena."

He said he visited a number of Colmena projects and loved them.

Debbie Patrick, an Elliot Groves resident, said she still had concerns about light and noise problems.

"I like lot of the changes," she said "But there's still too much light industrial. I'm still on the fence."

The Planning Commission is expected to vote on a formal recommendation on the 39-acre proposal on May 3. That and the application for the light industrial portion are then expected to both go to council for a decision June 20.

Both proposals carry a Planned Area Development overlay, which would lock the developer into the project design.

Council members Chuck Bongiovani and Jim Torgeson sat through the two-hour presentation and liked the changes.

"What I liked the most about it is this developer is really going out of his way to work with the community and neighborhood," Bongiovani said. "I'm impressed with the number of meetings the developer has had with individuals and the community and I think they've gone beyond what's expected."

But he said he was not ready to give his full support because he still had questions about the number of 18-wheelers anticipated and their route.

"How many will there be at any one time leaving or going into the place is just a concern," he said. "I heard them say at any one time most likely 150 trucks there. So even if 20 or 25 are leaving at the same time or near the same time, I can't see it yet."

He agreed with Lake that with the distance, the truck noise won't be an issue.

"They have the right to sell the property," he said. "We have to make sure it makes sense, the project.

"It's been alfalfa fields for so many years," Bongiovani said. "It's just change."

Torgeson said he doesn't like multifamily rentals and would have preferred to see condominiums where people can purchase and be invested in Gilbert.

"To me, I'm thinking this is pretty close, it really is," he said of the new proposal. "I know that the neighborhood, they came up with this. They're the ones who composed the multifamily as a barrier and the green space.

"I'm more comfortable with this than just a whole bunch of multifamily," Torgeson said.

"The true concerns seemed to be addressed. It's always been my sticking point with this project, are the residents happy," he added. "I'm not trying to be an anti-anything and be pro-residents and sensitive to reasonable protection of maintaining their property values."

But he was not ready to say if he was backing the project until he sees "what finally happens" with the proposal when it reaches the council.

Vice Mayor Kathy Tilque, who arrived late because of the mayor's State of the Town address, said she didn't see the entire presentation to say if she liked the changes or not.

"Saying that, I believe the developer has worked in good faith with the neighbors and we are getting close," Tilque said. "Once our staff has time to review the actual plans, stipulations, and understanding the commitments to the neighbors are memorized in writing, I'll be much closer to finalizing my decision. But I believe we are moving in the right direction.

"I'm hoping to come away with a win-win for the neighbors and community with this project but there are still lots of dotting the i's and crossing the t's that need to be completed."