Developer defends Landings on Ocotillo project - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Developer defends Landings on Ocotillo project

December 4th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Developer defends Landings on Ocotillo project

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

The folks who want to build a controversial affordable housing project in Chandler say there is a lot of misinformation circulating and they are eager to correct it.

The Landings on Ocotillo is proposed for about 25 acres east of Arizona Avenue on Ocotillo Road, just east of the railroad tracks behind a Target retail center.

The project has drawn the opposition of the City of Chandler and a large group of neighbors, primarily because of the amount of traffic they fear it will bring to what they consider already crowded streets.

The property would be built on a Maricopa County island, an unincorporated area surrounded by city land.

Therefore, it’s the County Board of Supervisors who will make the decision if the project happens or not. The County Planning & Zoning Commission is scheduled to discuss the case on Jan. 12. It is then the public can make comments.

Owen Metz, the senior vice president and project partner for the Mountain West Region for Dominium, said he meets with people often to talk about what they do. Dominium is the company hoping to build and manage the property.

“At the end of the day you get them to say, ‘Yeah, I know we have a problem’” Metz said. “But then they say, ‘Well, can you just move it? Over there?’”

Dominium is one of the largest providers of affordable housing units in the nation. Its headquarters are in Minnesota, prompting critics to say they are an out-of-state builder.

However, the company employs 50 people, including Metz, in Arizona and has built or is building a number of properties around the Valley, including Mesa, South Phoenix, Goodyear and Surprise.

The company currently manages 38,000 apartment units in 19 states.

Metz said the Landings on Ocotillo project is intended to provide affordable housing to people who don’t make $80,000 a year. He said it has been 21 years since the last affordable housing project was built in Chandler.

Its 518 units would be split to accommodate two different types of tenants: 182 units would be reserved for seniors and the other 336 for families.

“Our typical resident is a single parent with a kid or two. They’re working and can’t afford the higher rents,” Metz said.

The rent prices for all the units would be set by the federal government. The Department of Housing and Urban Development publishes what it calls the fair market value rate. Metz said that means a single mom could rent a one-bedroom apartment for about $1,000 a month.

“We have a very thorough process that we have to do to qualify anyone who shows up to rent from us,” Metz said. “It’s arguably more difficult than qualifying for a mortgage.”

Anyone interested in renting must provide proof of income and American citizenship and go through an extensive background check. Prospective tenants also have to agree that if they commit any crime or use drugs that they will be kicked out immediately.

Metz said the company has found most of their residents are thrilled to have a high-quality place to live with lower-than-market rents and will not do anything to avoid losing that. So, he said, they tend not to have too many problems.

City officials say they gave Dominium other options than building at this location. The city opposes it because it does not fit with its airport area plan that calls for industrial use and something that brings jobs to the city.

Metz said the options the city offered didn’t work.

First, there are not many 25-acre sites. One of the 14 options the city gave Dominium had only an acre, Metz said, adding that owners of the land in some of the other options were unwilling to sell.

Metz also said most of the sites proposed by the city were zoned for industrial use and not multi-family so the company would have the same issue moving to a different location.

“About half of those sites were 5 acres or less,” Metz said. “They went through a thorough review process of each of these sites, took it all very seriously, and we sat down with the city and they presented their findings. And I think everybody walked away thinking that these aren’t going to work.”

Dominium has started trying to turn around public opinion, recognizing they won’t change everyone’s mind.

Company representatives met with the Chandler Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors on Nov. 16, hoping to earn their support. They are meeting with media and pretty much anyone else who wants to discuss their project.

“Part of the reason we didn’t show up at some of these … neighborhood meetings is, in the email communication, they said, ‘Don’t show up if you have an opposing view, I don’t want to hear it. We’re only here to oppose it. I don’t want to discuss the merits,’” Metz said.

He said he intends to reach out to neighboring HOAs and would be willing to meet with residents to talk about the project.

“I’ll go and get yelled at in the gymnasium all day long,” he said. “I’m happy to do it. Also happy to meet with people individually, or as a small group. I’ve done this long enough. I can take blows and I can speak facts.”

Here are his facts:

• There is a lack of affordable housing options in Chandler as elsewhere. Arizona is worse than other places, because it has far more single-family homes than multi-family units. Metz said normally it’s a 70-30 split in other states. In Arizona, single family homes make up more than 90 percent of all residential housing.

• There is a huge demand for rental units. Currently 97% of all Maricopa County apartments are being rented. That’s one of the reasons for the huge increase in prices.

• Chandler’s population is aging because young families can’t afford to live here. It’s leading to a declining enrollment in schools because families just starting out can’t afford to live here.

The biggest concern neighbors have expressed is they think it will make a bad traffic situation even worse. Metz said they have done more traffic studies than is required and they concluded the impact would be minimal.

“Is it more traffic than vacant or agricultural land? Of course,” he said. “But it’s not any different, it’s less than commercial.”

The whole development would likely have around 800 residents, not the 2,000 opponents claim. he said. Because the occupants have affordable rents, Metz argues, they would not need to have roommates.

The seniors are most likely not going to be on the roads during rush hours. He also contends, adding that many of the young families are part of the gig economy and travel at irregular hours.

The company also would make some improvements to help traffic flow, including adding a light at Pinelake Way and completing a road so residents could avoid Ocotillo and head north to Queen Creek Road.

“On average, we have less cars than a typical market rate development,” Metz said. “And a lot of cities have acknowledged that and allowed reduced traffic or reduced parking counts, etc. They don’t make us build a sea of parking.”

Chandler does not make that allowance.