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Mill Town interior street

An artist's rendering shows the interior street within the Mill Town development, separating the mixed use building from the three commercial buildings that have frontage on Milton Road. 

A zoning change that would pave the way for the latest massive student housing complex in Flagstaff was unanimously endorsed by citizen planners Wednesday and sent to the city council for final approval.

In addition, the 1,221-bedroom Mill Town housing and commercial complex on Milton Road received from the Flagstaff Planning and Zoning Commission a height variance to 93 feet from 65 feet for 20 percent of its buildings and permission to rent by the bedroom

Commissioner Marie Jones, who fought the 591-bed Hub as a Southside neighborhood leader last year, said she liked that Mill Town would not be in an existing neighborhood, unlike some other large housing developments that have received pushback from the community.

“It’s a tradeoff to go a little higher, but there is some natural area preserved,” she said, referring to a parcel on the west side of Beulah Boulevard that the developer, Vintage Partners, has set aside as open space.

Jones said the area where the development is to be built has been identified as an acceptable place for large scale development, and said the mixed use portion could create a neighborhood feel.

An artist's rendering shows the view of the Mill Town mixed-use housing development from Milton Road. 

Nine members of the public addressed the commission at the meeting Wednesday afternoon, with people voicing opinions both for and against the development.

Those who opposed the development referenced the large size of the mixed-use building, and expressed worry that renting by the bedroom would drive up the costs of housing in the city.

Marilyn Weissman, one of the members of the public to speak at the meeting, said she believes large-scale student housing developments are incompatible with Flagstaff.

“When are we going to say enough is enough?” she said. “We are using limited developable land for temporary residents.”

Michael Amundson, who also spoke against the project, said developers should build to the height allowed in the zoning code.

“Why can’t people build things to the laws we have?” Amundson said. “Please, build it to what we ask for you.”

At the highest point, the rooftop bar, the building will be 40 percent higher than the zoning limit allows.

Daniel Williamson, who also addressed the commission during the public comment period, said he liked the project because it may move students out of neighborhoods and free up some rental housing for other residents.

Jeff Meilbeck, the CEO of the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority, which operates Mountain Line buses, spoke in favor of the project. It will sit along three bus routes and will provide bus passes for residents.

“We at NAIPTA conclude the Mill Town project is important and want it to proceed,” he said.

Along with extending Beulah Boulevard and realigning University Avenue, the project is also to include an underpass beneath Milton Road for pedestrians and bicycles.

A ROOFTOP LOUNGE

Vintage is seeking a rezoning on the property to the “highway commercial” zone, which is the zoning of many of the surrounding parcels. The commission recommended the council approve the zoning change. The commission has the authority to grant or deny conditional use permits, which is what Vintage sought for the height and rental structure. However, the council will have to approve the zoning change request for the height allowance to be applicable.

Most of the parcel is now zoned public facility, to accommodate the ADOT offices.

The mixed use building will contain 1,221 bedrooms, which will be marketed to students.

The highway commercial zone allows a maximum height of 60 feet, or 65 feet if a developer chooses to use a pitched roof, City Planning Manager Tiffany Antol said. The tallest point on the proposed Mill Town building is slightly over 93 feet -- a rooftop lounge on top of the parking garage.

Antol said less than 20 percent of the building will exceed the 65-foot limit.

The project is proposed to be built between Milton Road and Beulah Boulevard, on the site which is now the Arizona Department of Transportation office.

The portion of the mixed use building, which has ground floor commercial uses with residential spaces above, that faces Milton Road also exceeds the height limit, due to a slope on the property that lowers the elevation of the land, meaning if the building is to keep a consistent roofline, it must be taller.

Antol said Vintage and the city did parking studies about the project, and determined the residential component would need 0.77 parking spaces per bedroom. Vintage has proposed 0.79 spaces per bedroom, with 965 total parking spaces. The commercial component will have 198 parking spaces, which is what is required by code.

The commercial component of the development includes pad for three free-standing commercial units, which are expected to contain a small grocery store, a drive-through restaurant and another commercial space. The mixed use building will also have ground floor commercial uses. The rooftop bar will only be accessible through the commercial portion of the building, said Carolyn Oberholtzer, an attorney representing Vintage. People living in the building who wish to go to the bar will have to enter through the commercial side and will be subject to age verification.

PHASE 3 OF PARTNERSHIP

Mill Town is the third phase of a public-private partnership between the city, the Arizona Department of Transportation, Harkins Theaters and Vintage Partners, which has included building a new Harkins Theaters building near the Flagstaff Mall, and will include converting the old Harkins building on Woodlands Village Boulevard into a new ADOT facility. Once ADOT is moved, Vintage is tasked with extending Beulah Boulevard and realigning University Drive to remove the disconnection on either side of Milton.

In exchange for realigning the streets and relocating the ADOT facility, Vintage will receive two parcels, one owned by ADOT on Milton and University and the other owned by the city directly behind the ADOT parcel, to develop.

Once the roads are aligned, there will be a roundabout installed at the intersection of Beulah, University and Yale Street, which will replace an existing three-way stop intersection.

The Flagstaff City Council will hold its first hearing about the project at its March 6 meeting.

The reporter can be reached at cvanek@azdailysun.com or 556-2249.

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City Government and Development Reporter

Corina Vanek covers city government, city growth and development for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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