More than a year after its first meeting with the public, McGrath Real Estate Partners received approval from the Flagstaff City Council to rezone land on Butler Avenue.
Council voted unanimously to rezone 14.51 acres of light industrial and heavy industrial property at 825 and 829 E. Butler Ave. during the first read of the ordinance at Tuesday night’s meeting. The ordinance calls for 2.24 acres of the property to become highway commercial land and another 12.27 acres for high density residential land.
McGrath’s commitment to finding a project that fit the city of Flagstaff’s regional plan impressed all seven members of the council, who praised the Houston-based developer for its willingness to listen to the community’s requests and concerns.
“There were many who questioned Council when we rejected your first proposal,” Mayor Coral Evans said during the meeting. “I think we rejected the first proposal because we knew that it could be better. So I would like to say thank you for taking that rejection to heart and thank you for coming back with a very good project.”
Initially holding a neighborhood meeting in April 2018 and receiving unanimous approval from the Planning and Zoning Commision this past January, McGrath’s request to Council was denied 5-2 in late February. Council will read and vote to adopt the ordinance for the final time at the July 2 meeting.
McGrath returned to Planning and Zoning in May with significant changes to the type of apartments offered within the development. Originally planning for 80% of the units to be four bedrooms and four bathrooms, McGrath now plans for 22% of the 333 total units to include four bedrooms.
The approved request also includes 60 efficiency units, 28 studios and 28 one-bedroom units, making up 35% of the site. Another 71 units will be two bedrooms and two bathrooms, with McGrath also adding six townhomes to the back of the development plan. The townhome units will include two bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms, with some of them designated for affordable housing, to make 23% of the project two bedrooms.
“We have gone back and done everything we can do to try to bring this project into a manner in which we think is more fitting with the comments we received from everybody here in the city of Flagstaff,” McGrath senior vice president Mark Lindley said, with the original plan including just 7% one bedrooms and 6.7% two bedrooms.
Overall, the development dropped its bedroom total from 854 to 764 while increasing the total units from 238 to 333. Also included in the request was a plan to contribute 10% of the units to affordable housing as well as $500,000 to the affordable housing trust.
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Another $200,000 will be given toward the cost of any traffic improvements to the Lone Tree Road corridor, $25,000 to the Flagstaff Police Department and $10,000 to the fire department. Lastly, residents on the property will be provided bus passes and an equal amount of passes in the first year will be donated to NAIPTA for it to provide to needy individuals.
“I am glad it is going to be this developer because the experience we have had with you guys has been incredibly gracious, communicative, two-way, respectful and patient,” Councilmember Austin Aslan said. “I really appreciate that, and as someone who is slightly new at this, I may even be taking for granted how unique this experience is and not realizing it can get much more hairy in other circumstances.”
Prior to the vote, part owner of the property Dan Wendt spoke to Council about his family’s desire to sell the property for a number of years. Wendt said the property, currently occupied by the closed Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors facility, has not received much industrial or commercial interest.
“We met with McGrath several years ago. They had some interest in the property, but we did not actually decide to try to go down that route until just the last couple years,” Wendt said. “We just want to make sure that everybody knows that we have been trying to hand this property off to somebody that’s going to do a great job, going to do something nice for the city.”
Whitney Cunningham, an attorney who represents the owner of the property, spoke as an individual and warned Council this might be the last option for the property.
“This property is largely vacant; it is comprised of half-century-old buildings that are obsolete for any new industrial use other than perhaps warehousing,” Cunningham said. “If this proposal were to be voted down, don't expect another residential and commercial developer to come along and try to take up this risk.”
Cunningham added that any business considering the building for warehousing would likely only employ a few people. Meanwhile, McGrath’s proposal included representatives from OneAZ Credit Union and Goodwill of Northern Arizona, who each plan to move into the proposed commercial space to be built along Butler Avenue.
Kim Ryder, vice president of real estate for Goodwill, said the location would be the flagship location for northern Arizona. Bryan Nielsen, a senior vice president for OneAZ Credit Union, said his company would be moving from its current location on South Beaver Street near the corner of Butler Avenue.