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A large housing development to be built at the intersection of Butler and Sawmill will now come before city council after it received approval from the Planning and Zoning commission Wednesday.

The site, currently home to the Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors facility, is zoned for heavy and light industrial uses, but the developer had asked the commission to rezone the area to highway commercial and high density residential.

“We’ve been extremely excited and worked on this really hard for the past couple of years,” McGrath Real Estate Partners senior vice president Mark Lindley told the commission. “We’ve been on three or four different parcels of land trying to make something work and found this site.”

Houston-based developer McGrath Real Estate is planning to build two five-story residential buildings that will have a combined 854 bedrooms in 238 apartment units. The two buildings, which will be connected by a pedestrian bridge, will be several hundred feet from Butler.

A “main street” that will separate the two residential buildings will also effectively act as a continuation of Kensington Drive.

To the east of the residential buildings will also be a two-story parking garage with 318 parking spaces to add to the 431 surface spaces also meant to serve residents and visitors.

“We’re working on a concept to get a local artist to do an art mural on the side of the parking garage so as [the main street] terminates, it would terminate into an art feature done by some local artist here,” Lindley said.

They are also installing removable bollards at each end of the main street so that it can be closed off and accommodate community events such as a farmers market or an arts festival, Lindley said.

Neighboring Butler, the site will have two commercial buildings totaling about 22,000 square feet of commercial space. At the moment, this section is still conceptual and will likely be built after the residential buildings are constructed, according to city staff.

Unlike other high occupancy housing developments such as the Hub or Fremont Station, Barrett Kirk, chief investment officer for McGrath Real Estate, said they will not be asking for a conditional use permit to rent by the room. Instead, they will renting by the apartment in a more traditional manor.

Kirk said they hope to attract a variety of residents including young professionals and families and want to open sometime in 2020.

The project has gone through two public meetings and Lindley said they have changed several aspects of the development in response to concerns brought up by members of the public at those meetings.

One of the concerns brought up at the meetings was that of Flagstaff's affordable housing issues and if this development could help address them. Another concern was whether the building really was designed with residents other than students in mind.

The majority of the apartments in the building are designed with four bedrooms and four bathrooms, a setup that appeals to students who may split the cost of rent with roommates.

“We went back after some of the town hall meetings and eliminated as many of the four-bedroom units as we could and incorporated extra ones and twos to try to meet some of the concerns from the city,” Lindley said.

This assertion was questioned by members of the commission, who pointed out the mix of units is still heavily weighted toward four-bedroom units.

Out of the development's 238 units, 190 of them are planned as four-bedroom apartments. There are only 31 apartments that are either three- or two-bedroom, two-bathroom units and 17 that are either one-bedroom, one-bathroom or studio style floor plans.

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“I won’t make any claims that we won’t have a lot of students here. With the demand for student housing in this market and the proximity to campus, we're obviously going to have a lot of students here,” Lindley said. “It has to model this way in order to make the development work. I mean it would be really nice if I could come out here and build a building with all one- and two-bedrooms and throw in a few threes, but financially, that model doesn’t work.”

Nonetheless, they have been able designate 10 percent of the units, 24 apartments in all, as affordable housing. These apartments will be designated for those who make up to 80 percent of the area’s median annual income and will not be available to students, Kirk said.

Those who rent the apartments will also pay no more than 33 percent of their annual income to live there.

The development is in an area the regional plan designates as an activity center, a place where high occupancy housing developments are appropriate.

There will be three accesses to the development, one on Butler and two on Sawmill.

The developers are also giving $100,000 to the city for affordable housing projects, $200,000 for traffic solutions in the area and $25,000 to the Flagstaff Police Department.

Police have found there is often a large increase in the volume of calls they receive from a newly opened development.

Updated for correction at 2 p.m. on Feb 13. 

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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