Negotiations will continue between the Flagstaff City Council and Houston-based developer McGrath Real Estate Partners after the former decided to postpone any decision on latter's request to rezone two parcels of land.
Currently, the property is home to the closed Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors facility.
Council made the decision to postpone in order to give the public more time to comment on the matter, as the Feb. 5 meeting fell on the same day as this pas week's snowstorm.
The city’s planning and zoning commission approved the development with relative ease last month, but council has been far more skeptical of the request and has asked for a number of concessions from McGrath Real Estate.
The developer initially pledged 10 percent, or 24 units, would be designated as affordable housing. The developer also said it would give money to the city for more affordable housing and to mitigate some of the impacts of the development. However, by the end of Tuesday night's meeting the developers also agreed to lower the number of four-bedroom units.
McGrath Real Estate said the project could support both students and long-term residents, as originally planned. However, 238 units were planned for the development, 190 of which were to include four bedrooms and four bathrooms.
As a result, only 48 units would be one, two or three bedrooms.
The disparity in the bedroom totals within units rubbed many of the councilmembers the wrong way. Vice Mayor Adam Shimoni said the four-bedroom units would likely not be suitable for many families.
Instead the larger units, which may cost as much as $2,400, appeal to students who can bring the cost of renting such large apartments down with the use of roommates.
“(A total of) 190, four-bedroom, four-bathroom units: it's concerning for me personally, and I’d like to think, other members of council,” Shimoni said. “I am not sure what members of our community are going to want to live here.”
Mark Lindley, a senior vice president at McGrath Real Estate, said he understood council wanted fewer four-bedroom units, but those units are also more profitable.
“This is difficult,” Lindley said. “It’s not difficult because we want it to be, it’s difficult because it costs millions and millions and millions of dollars to buy land and build these things, and they have to perform.”
Nonetheless, Lindley said they had done the math to see how many four-bedroom units they could lose while keeping the project feasible.
While the number of four-bedroom units could be lowered from 190 to 165, the total of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments could jump to a combined 103.
The increase to 268 units would also mean the number of affordable housing options would also move from 24 to 27.
Shimoni said he was also concerned as to whether they would be able to fill the building with the students they planned to market the development toward, adding he has heard of other student-focused developments in town have struggled to fill all the rooms with those attending Northern Arizona University.
Lindley said for every one of the student focused projects McGrath Real Estate has built over the past six years, they have had a waitlist months before construction was completed and they expect no different in Flagstaff.
“I don’t think we would come to town, spend $540,000 to $570,000 to entitle a site and spend $50 million to build a site if we didn’t think [it would fill with student residents],” Lindley said.
Mayor Coral Evans was also concerned about whether it was a good idea to give up land currently zoned for light and heavy industrial, and has the potential to provide jobs, in order to turn it into even more high-density residential housing.
“We are looking at rezoning heavy industrial and light industrial, which quite frankly means jobs,” Evans said. “I’ll grant you that this particularly piece of property has not been utilized for decades, but I also know the way this community works: once we give up heavy and light industrial property, we will never get it back.”
She said because of this, she believed the developer would need to show council the city would be better off with their development than it would be should the land remain for industrial uses, especially as nearby residents of the Southside neighborhood have called for the preservation of land for industrial uses.
Collaboration with NAIPTA
To help address potential concerns council may have regarding the traffic caused by residents, Lindley also said they have been talking with the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority over the past week and signed a letter of intent to provide bus passes for all residents for five years.
The development is situated to allow residents nearly direct access on routes three and seven, with more routes available on the far side of the neighboring Aspen Place. The closest two routes, however, will require a bus change to reach campus, said Erika Mazza, CEO and president of NAIPTA.
The developer also proposed a one-time donation of about $42,000 to go into a fund to support low-income and the disadvantaged, Mazza said. Should their board vote in favor of the proposal, the money would go to providing monthly bus passes at reduced prices to those who are struggling to get by or are homeless.
Mazza said she hopes this money can act as a seed to get such a program started, and NAIPTA would then be able to continue the efforts with money from other sources.
“We would like this development to be a catalyst for the community and a model for future real-estate developers to follow,” Lindley said. “We’ve worked hard to listen to the community to listen to the city and to listen to the leaders of the city.”
Updated for correction at 1:57 p.m. on Feb. 13.