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Mill Town redesign

A redesigned Mill Town apartment complex removes ground-floor commercial uses and replaces them with one-bedroom apartments while lowering the overall height of the building.

A 1,164 bedroom apartment complex was given the final go-head to be constructed on Milton Road and University Avenue at the Flagstaff City Council’s meeting Tuesday night, when the rezoning to allow the building was approved by a 5-2 vote.

Mill Town is part of a multi-phase public-private partnership between the city, Vintage and the Arizona Department of Transportation. The first phase of the partnership was the new Harkins Theaters on the east side of Flagstaff by the mall and is already open and generating revenue.

According to a report prepared for Vintage by Elliott D. Pollack and Company, prior to the completion of Mill Town, over $5.5 million will have been generated in tax revenue. The construction of the projects is expected to generate $5 million in revenue alone.

This year, the Harkins Theater is expected to generate $397,700 in tax revenue. Once Mill Town is complete, commercial activity at the site will generate $1.4 million annually in tax revenue, according to the report.

Over a 20-year period, beginning in 2016 when the Harkins Theaters was built, all aspects of the public-private partnership are projected to raise $34.1 million in in tax revenue, the report states. A total of 369 new jobs are projected to be created through all aspects of the partnership, which includes the Harkins Theaters, the redesigned ADOT building at the old Harkins location, Mill Town and the commercial uses associated with the Mill Town project. So far, the report said 58 new jobs have been created by expanding and moving the theater.

The vote came nearly a month after the council first deliberated the project, known as Mill Town. The developer, Vintage Partners, redesigned the largest portion of the project when members of the city council and the public voiced concerns that the building, which will be mainly targeted to student renters, was too tall.

In the redesign, the architect eliminated the ground floor commercial use from the residential building, and instead designed the building so residential use would begin on the ground floor. The ground floor will contain 22 one-bedroom units that will have individual stoops and porches on the outside of the building, but will also have access from the back of each unit for accessibility.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Walter Crutchfield, one of the partners at Vintage, said the developer would be willing to offer the ground-floor units at 30 percent below market value for rent for 10 years, and the developer would make a good faith effort to extend the subsidy beyond that period.

Crutchfield had originally intended to rent those units to senior citizens, but Carolyn Oberholtzer, the lawyer representing Vintage, said federal fair housing laws prevent property managers from putting age restrictions on only a portion of the property, instead of the whole thing. The units can be marketed to people who are not students, but that cannot preclude students from renting them.

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At the meeting, 13 members of the public addressed the council. Of those who expressed an opinion for or against the rezoning request, seven spoke in favor of Mill Town and three spoke in opposition. The remaining speakers did not voice an opinion on the project as a whole, but made suggestions, like including the affordable housing component and the development’s transit-oriented design.

Erika Mazza, the deputy general manager of the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (NAIPTA) also announced that NAIPTA would be able to come up with money to support the proposed bus-only lanes that would encircle the development.

The majority of the council members praised the project, and said they were glad to see concessions from Vintage regarding the height of the building, deciding not to rent by the bedroom and offering some units below market rate rent.

“This project is probably way ahead of its time and I will support it wholeheartedly,” Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan said.

Mayor Coral Evans said she believed the way to preserve historic neighborhoods was to create new places outside historic areas where students will like to live. She supported the project and said she was glad it was not gentrifying an existing neighborhood and was not displacing people.

Councilwoman Celia Barotz, who along with Councilwoman Eva Putzova voted against the rezoning, said she was not comfortable allowing such a large building with so many dwelling units when the Flagstaff Police Department and the Flagstaff Fire Department have already told the council that they are spread too thin.

At a budget retreat, a representative from the fire department told the council about 25 percent of calls the department gets are NAU-related. Since 2008 the number of calls to the fire department has increased by 50 percent.

In her statement at the meeting, Barotz said she felt it was “irresponsible” to approve the project knowing how strained the emergency services are in the city, and said historically the construction sales tax and the increase in property tax revenue has not covered the increased cost to the police and fire departments for safety.

Crutchfield has said work would begin on revamping the old Harkins Theaters complex on Woodlands Village Boulevard once the developer got the rezoning request approved for Mill Town. Once the revamp is complete, ADOT employees will move there and work can begin on Mill Town construction, and the road improvements to realign University Avenue and extend Beulah Boulevard.

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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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