Council Shuts Down Controversial Warehouse Plans - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Council Shuts Down Controversial Warehouse Plans

October 22nd, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Council Shuts Down Controversial Warehouse Plans

By Jason Stone


A large community outcry earlier this week stopped a controversial distribution center in Chandler.

The Chandler City Council listened to a packed City Hall audience wearing white on Monday, Oct. 15, and voted 5-2 to reject a planned development at McQueen and Queen Creek roads despite the threat of legal action from its own lawyer.

“This is a sweet win,” said Susan Ellsworth, one of the leaders of a neighborhood group that formed to fight the project. “We worked hard. This brought our community together.”

The developer, Ryan Companies, was attempting to build a 1.2-million-square-foot warehouse and distribution center a little bit south of the southwest corner of the intersection. But a community movement that began less than a month ago helped snuff out the plans.

Despite warnings from City Attorney Kelly Schwab that the project met the city’s zoning laws, council members listened to arguments for about two hours before rejecting it.

“As long as the developer met those requirements, the staff would be obligated to allow the development to go forward,” City Attorney Kelly Schwab told the Council.

At issue were apparent changes to a 2007 plan called the Chandler Airpark Area Plan. Residents say the plans Ryan submitted looked nothing like the original intention for the area.

Those who spoke out said more than a decade ago they were promised development of an office park, not a warehouse with hundreds of truck bays and diesel engines running around the clock.

“It does not resemble in any way the concept plan that was sold to the community in 2007 on which many based their decisions on whether to invest in their neighborhoods,” resident Claudia Blaz said.

The Council eventually agreed.

In a statement after the decision, Molly Ryan Carson, the senior vice president for the company’s Southwest region, said, “We have a number of options. We will consider plans for the future. Obviously, the zoning is appropriate, and we will meet with the city staff to review our options. We are committed to bringing a first-class development and hundreds of jobs to the East Valley.”

The proposal called for seven buildings total, including two big warehouses. To compare, the new FedEx Building on Queen Creek near Gilbert Road would have fit inside the largest of the proposed buildings.

“If the result is not in your favor, it’s not a death sentence,” Councilman Sam Huang told Ryan representatives before the vote. “You can come back and apply again.”

Vice Mayor Rene Lopez made the motion to approve the project, but a second to motion almost never came.

After calling for a second two more times, Mayor Jay Tibshraeny began to say “the motion fails” right as Councilmember Jeremy McClymonds stepped in with a second to the motion.

That drew a loud groan from the crowd. One man yelled out at McClymonds, “Why did it take you so long to second the motion?”

McClymonds shot back, “Because I wanted to speak my mind.”

“He doesn’t have to answer that,” Tibshraeny interrupted.

In fact, the mayor stopped the proceedings several times to warn the crowd to stop interrupting speakers. Tibshraeny also wanted to make it clear to the packed crowd that the council didn’t initiate the case but was merely ruling on it.

“This is something that will end at the council,” Tibshraeny said. “I got a few emails that thought I was bringing this forward or (other councilmembers) were bringing this forward.”

Monday’s contentious meeting wasn’t all serious. Before giving his presentation on the merits of the project, City Planner Erik Swanson, who recently accepted a similar job in Queen Creek, joked, “I think it’s fair to say some people like to stroll out of here quietly, and I think I’m going out of here with my saddle on fire.

That drew laughs from a crowd that wasn’t really in a joking mood, especially when Swanson made the case for the project early in the meeting.

Swanson said the proposed project was more restrictive to give residents more protection than what was passed in 2007.

Plus, Swanson added city planners made slight changes to the Ryan project to help pacify nearby homeowners even more, including adding a landscape buffer zone around it, lowering the maximum height of the buildings and adding around 600 trees between the homes and the facility.

“The long-term intention of this area is employment,” Swanson said. “But it was designed to create as big a buffer as possible, recognizing the need to separate that industrial use from the residential.”

That still wasn’t good enough for residents, who were worried about noise, gas fumes, toxic and hazardous cargo and truck traffic along the McQueen Road corridor.

Swanson and Ryan representative, Gary Hayes, tried to alleviate the citizen concerns point by point.

On the traffic issue, speakers on both sides gave conflicting predictions about future congestion.

Municipal Utilities Director John Knudson gave a presentation that shows the type of project proposed would create less traffic than shopping centers and office parks.

But residents, who believed the project would be more appropriate in a heavy industrial zoning area, claimed the traffic numbers were based on light industrial zoning.

“McQueen and Queen Creek (roads) will be the chokepoint of our city,” resident Ken McAlister said.

Residents were also upset a traffic study didn’t include truck traffic coming from other areas to the south of the site from I-10 and 587.

Swanson told the council, “McQueen Road currently works well under capacity, so we can handle the extra traffic.”

Hayes detailed for councilmembers how he knocked on doors in the days leading up to Monday’s vote, hoping to assuage some neighbors of their concerns.

“I’ve never done it for a zoning case, but I did it for this one,” Hayes said. “It was very instructive for us. We sat in people’s living rooms. We stood in people’s backyards. We even stood on a ladder in somebody’s backyard. And we got to hear what their concerns were.”

The neighborhood meetings started late last month after a typo in a city information card mailed out to voters almost made nobody notice.

The mailing indicated a public meeting was scheduled for development on the “southwest” corner of the intersection, not the “southeast.” Because of that error, the council had to continue the issue from its last meeting.

In the meantime, Ellsworth and others that included Councilman-elect Matt Orlando, were able to get about 1,700 signatures on an online petition to stop the project.

Councilmembers were also slammed with a thick stack of printed emails from concerned residents.

In the end, Lopez said he voted in favor for the project because it was too risky not to.

“I do like gambling, but not with taxpayers’ money,” Lopez said. “To me, it is a gamble if we do say no because of the amount of changes made from the 2007 plan. The 2018 plan allows more restrictions, which is a sure bet.”

McClymonds told the crowd there his vote wasn’t easy.

“For me the decision was difficult, knowing no matter what the outcome was somebody was going to walk away unhappy,” he said. “A no vote could open the city up to legal liability.”

Before voting no, Mayor-elect Kevin Hartke said “I honestly don’t believe the worst-case scenarios that many of you are fearful or is going to happen. At the same time, I also believe you should have a say.”

Ryan’s appeal to the council included some heavy hitters.

Tony Bradley, the president of the Arizona Trucking Association, said the project wouldn’t be as big as some of the distribution centers in the West Valley, although no company had been named for the location. He also pointed out state and county laws don’t allow any truck idling for more than five minutes.

“Time is money for trucks,” Bradley said. “They don’t want to be sitting on a property. They want to get to their next job as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

The man who entered into a land swap with the city in order for the project to be proposed even weighed in.

“It’s a perfect plan,” Charles Keith told the Council. “It’s got a buffer zone, landscaping and Ryan is an A-plus company. We’re getting companies (moving) from California. Let’s fill this up.”

Troy Peterson, the original developer of Lantana Ranch nearly two decades ago, spoke in favor of the project, telling councilmembers the subdivision was designed to have development going right up to it. He said the 300-foot buffer zone would have made it better.

Orlando, who is returning to the council in January, was originally a council member during the 2007 agreement.

“We didn’t envision the large distribution centers like Amazon or Walmart,” Orlando said. “Some on social media have questioned why people live near this zoned land and why are they complaining now. There are 40 residents on 2 separate occasions who worked on agreement. We are not in compliance in the agreement.”