Residents confront developer on Landings apartments - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Residents confront developer on Landings apartments

January 31st, 2023 SanTan Sun News
Residents confront developer on Landings apartments

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

The controversial Landings On Ocotillo affordable housing project has two new names, but it still faces the same entrenched opposition from residents who live in the neighborhood.

That much was clear after a nearly three-hour public meeting the lead developer, Dominium Apartments, staged at Hamilton High School’s auditorium on Jan. 25. About 150 people attended, including at least five City Council members.

However, the interaction with neighbors might have led to some changes being made to the project proposed for on Ocotillo Road, about a quarter of a mile east of Arizona Avenue.

“I think one of the things I heard, for example, is we need more senior affordable housing, so we’re going to go look and see if we can maybe shift some more into more senior and less workforce housing,” said Owen Metz, a senior vice president and project partner with Dominium’s Mountain West Region.

The developer currently proposes 336 units for families and 182 for seniors.

Dominium rebranded the project after being threatened with a lawsuit for using “Ocotillo,” in its name. Metz said a lawsuit would have no merit, but that they decided to change the name because they already face enough opposition.

The new names are Paseo Crossings for the family side and Sonoran Landings for the senior living component.

No matter what it’s called, the neighbors were clear in their opposition to it.

They contended it doesn’t fit in the city’s general plan, that it would increase traffic in an already congested area, that schools are over capacity and can’t handle 800 more residents with kids, and that there’s not enough water.

They also pointed to the city officials’ opposition, including City Council’s unanimous proclamation against it.

The county does not require a public meeting, but the developer decided to hold one anyway because of the strong opposition and what they said were misconceptions about the proposal.

In the past, the developers have said most of the opposition is coming from people who take a position of NIMBY – not in my backyard – and some neighbors took exception to that characterization.

“Please stop calling us names in the fluff pieces you put out in newspapers,” one speaker said. “We’re concerned parents, we’re concerned citizens, and we live here.”

A number of residents didn’t understand what the project is. The words “Section 8,” and “government-subsidized” housing were used at least a dozen times.

Two speakers said they were worried that a project like this would lower the value of their homes. And a third asked Metz if he wanted to live next to a project like this.

The residents asking questions appeared to each be holding copies of the same sheets of paper stapled together with a list of questions on it.

“We came prepared,” resident Anne Patterson said.

Metz said the project would receive no federal dollars.

By agreeing to cap rent prices, the. company receives federal tax credits that it uses to help secure private financing.

Dominium Apartments is one of the largest affordable housing companies in the country. For example, the market rate for a one-bedroom apartment with utilities in Chandler is $1,900 a month. Dominium would charge $1,000.

The project is not Section 8, which does not exist anymore, or public housing, the developer stressed, and residents are responsible for all the rent.

The project would be located on a county island, more than 24 acres of unincorporated land surrounded by Chandler. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will have final say on its fate.

To qualify, most residents could not make more than 60% of the median income level for the local area, which Dominium said is $88,800 for a family of four.

That means to qualify to live in this new project, single residents could not make more than $37,140 annually. A couple would have to make less than $42,420. For a couple with a child it would be $47,700 and a family of four it would be $52,980. About 10% of the units would be available for people who make 80% of the area median income.

The top concern expressed by most involves the traffic that 800 or more new residents would generate.

Ed Bull, a lawyer with Burch & Cracchiolo who led the presentation for Dominium, pointed to a traffic study that showed existing roads could accommodate any increase in vehicle trips. He also said a light industrial development would generate similar numbers based on their traffic study.

The neighbors reacted loudly to such claims.

Some speakers said the study must have been done during the heart of the pandemic when most people were working from home. They said it did not match with their daily experience driving through the Ocotillo-Arizona intersection.

The engineer who performed the study said traffic was measured in August 2021, many people were still working from home, and then again last November.

The neighbors said the study does not account for the expansion of Intel’s Ocotillo campus, which is expected to bring thousands more workers.

Some neighbors called the Ocotillo-Arizona intersection the most dangerous in the city. The engineer countered that Chandler Boulevard and Alma School has the highest crash rate at 2.2 per MEV (million entering vehicles). The data for Arizona and Ocotillo is 1.34 per MEV.

Another major concern was the capacity of schools.

Dominium representatives said they had met with school officials and were told local schools could handle more students.

That triggered cries of protest, and one speaker said the district is not going to turn down additional students because it will mean more funding.

Dr. Wendy Nance, Chandler Unified the associate superintendent for human resources and community services, read a statement at the meeting that said: “CUSD was asked if we have capacity at our schools to accommodate enrollment shifts or growth. We responded that we have that capacity across our district.”

A couple speakers cited the lack of water in Arizona and expressed concerns that there is not enough to support this project.

Bull said the project has enough water credits and that the city would actually end up with more water rights if it is built.

Council’s proclamation rejecting the project contended that the developer did not give serious consideration to 14 alternative sites the city offered.

Metz has said Dominium spent a month reviewing all 14 sites before determining they would not work. Nine are not for sale, Bull said, and half were too small.

All 14 sites would require the same zoning change Dominium is seeking now and are close to a residential neighborhood.

The residents took exception to Dominium’s characterization of the project as workforce housing for teachers, police officers, firefighters and nurses.

“We’re being played on words with, ‘teachers, firefighters, nurses,’ one speaker said. “Please don’t do that. … We’re not idiots.”

They pointed out that the starting wage for a CUSD teacher is $52,715, so a single teacher would not qualify to live there. The starting base salary for a full-time police officer is $63,440, according to the city.

Another speaker said he is worried that the Chandler Police Department would need to deploy special units to monitor this complex.

“A quick Google, common knowledge search shows that government-subsidized housing has a history of being plagued with crime,” he said.

Metz pointed out that each resident must sign a lease agreement that allows evictions for tenants who break the law. He said most of Dominium’s residents are happy to have an affordable home, so they follow the rules.

Most residents appeared to share concerns an affordable housing apartment complex in their neighborhood would drive down their home values.

“[There are] a lot of million dollar, multi-million dollar, homes in this area,” one speaker said. “It does not fit. If you look at the neighborhood surrounding, a lot of those homes are valued at over $1 million…You are devaluing the properties.”

Metz said national studies prove that is not going to happen.

An Urban Institute study of a housing project in Alexandria, Virginia, found no significant change in property values except an increase in average home values of 0.9%.

Metz said Dominium will now discuss its next steps – such as possibly changing the mix of senior and family units – and eventually go before the county Planning and Zoning Commission. That meeting, whenever it takes place, would be open to the public.