The Flagstaff City Council voted to postpone a first vote on the rezoning application for a 1,221-bed student apartment complex until the developer could consider some suggestions, including making a smaller building and setting aside spaces as affordable workforce housing and for the homeless.
The development, called Mill Town, is proposed by developer Vintage Partners as the final portion of a public-private partnership that includes relocating the Arizona Department of Transportation facility, realigning University Avenue and extending Beulah Boulevard. Mill Town is proposed to be built on Milton and University, where the ADOT facility is housed. ADOT will move into the former Harkins Theatre on Woodlands Village Boulevard.
Several members of the council expressed concerns about the proposed height of the building, which reaches 93 feet at its highest point -- a rooftop lounge.
Vintage was seeking the rezoning to place the property into the “highway commercial” zone, which matches most of the surrounding properties. The highway commercial zone allows a building’s roof pitches to reach 65 feet in height.
Last week, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted to grant Vintage two conditional use permits, one to exceed the height allowable in the zone, and one to rent by the bedroom. Conditional use permits are the commission’s responsibility to grant or deny, and an applicant can appeal a decision to the city council if they choose. However, the commission’s decision on the permit for the height will depend if the council chooses to grant the rezoning.
Walter Crutchfield, one of the partners at Vintage, also discussed the project with a group of about 14 interested residents at a public forum held at a Flagstaff coffee shop Monday afternoon.
During that forum, Crutchfield was asked why the development will be rented by the bedroom, a format that tends to favor students because each renter is on an individual lease, instead of traditionally by the unit.
Crutchfield told attendees Vintage and its partner company for Mill Town, Capstone Collegiate Communities, the developer of Fremont Station, have determined the renting by the bedroom format is the best way to recoup costs the project has already incurred.
As part of Vintage’s agreement with Harkins, Vintage would develop the new movie theater near the mall on Vintage’s dime, and Harkins would not be charged rent at the new facility for the first five years, Crutchfield told the group. The cost of converting the old Harkins building on Woodlands Village Boulevard is estimated to be $14.2 million, nearly double the developer’s original estimate, he said.
“Whatever we deliver has to cover costs,” Crutchfield said.
At the city council meeting Tuesday night, some members of the council asked if Vintage would consider setting some units aside to rent by the unit, not by the room, to be more accommodating for families. Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan asked Crutchfield if he would be agreeable to allowing some of the units to be occupied with people who have gone through the city’s Front Door program, which is a program for people experiencing homelessness.
Crutchfield told the council he was open to considering the different options, but said he would have to work with his team to see how viable each option would be.
A traffic impact analysis done for the project did not require Vintage to make any off-site improvements beyond the extension of Beulah Boulevard and the realignment of University Avenue that will be included in the project as part of Vintage’s public-private partnership with the city and ADOT.
Most of the worst-performing intersections are expected to remain badly performing with or without the new apartment complex, according to the traffic impact analysis. These intersections include Milton Road and Plaza Way, Milton Road and Riordan Road, the Target driveway and University Drive and other nearby intersections, mostly along Milton.
However, the analysis indicates that Mill Town will not have a significant impact on congestion at these intersections, with wait times expected to be less than two additional seconds for most of the listed intersections, which the analysis said are already performing at an “E” or “F” level.
Vintage has also proposed building an underpass beneath Milton for pedestrians and bicyclists to alleviate some traffic concerns for people crossing the street to and from Northern Arizona University campus.
“This should have been done years ago,” Crutchfield said.
As part of the public-private partnership, the city will pay Vintage at least $7.375 million to extend Beulah Boulevard and realign University Avenue on the west side of Milton. A roundabout will also be added at the intersection of Beulah and University.
The council voted to continue the hearing to its March 20 meeting, and will take a vote on the first of two needed readings of the zoning change at that time.