RE: Zoning Case #Z-54-16
Dear Councilman DiCiccio,
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me on September 7th to discuss the proposed zoning change to nearly 8 acres of North Phoenix Baptist Church’s land on Bethany Home and Central Avenue.
The reasons you haven’t heard more opposition from your constituents are: 1) North 3rd Street, north of Montebello (seven to eight residential homes directly across from the proposed project) only recently found out about the proposed project from an article in the Phoenix Business Journal. These residents still have not heard directly from the North Phoenix Baptist Church (NPBC) or IPA and they will be the most impacted. 2) We were told this project was 3 stories in height and no elevations or details were made available to us; 3) There has been no official communication of any kind initiated by the developer, church, or the City to the neighborhood about this project. It is only because we are such a tightly knit community that we heard anything about this proposed project. 4) I have asked everyone to wait until the North Central Phoenix Homeowners Association (NCPHA) contacted the city and reviewed the application and understood all the details.
Daily, I am receiving numerous calls and emails from concerned residents. This zoning case already has significant opposition. Therefore, please consider this an official letter of opposition from the NCPHA. As I stated in our meeting, if you need several hundred emails, letters or phone calls from individuals opposing this, I can notify everyone to do so.
William J. Murphy platted the Orangewood Subdivision in 1895 and our neighborhood has been zoned residential for the past 121 years. Our NCPHA group (comprised of 2500 properties) has been actively protecting the residential zoning from Missouri to Northern, and from 7th Avenue to 7th Street for the past 40 years. Our primary mission is to maintain the neighborhood’s residential character and integrity. As a result, we have worked hard to be excluded from the City’s Infill Map and the Walkable Urban Code map, which allows for mixed use and higher density. There are very few original Phoenix neighborhoods left and our residents are passionate and committed to protecting our neighborhood from inappropriate development. The City of Phoenix should feel the same way.
The other unique quality of our neighborhood is our array of 14 churches which collectively occupy over 100 acres. The make-up of a strong neighborhood includes superior schools, financially stable churches, well-maintained homes, responsible property owners and a predominant residential presence.
The North Phoenix Baptist Church, like other R1-10 zoned property owners, have every right to sell their land. I am a strong believer in private property rights. However, these rights are not one-sided. Whether the church leases or sells their land, the underlying zoning must be respected.
IPA, LLC. is a for-profit multidimensional developer and management company which provides multifamily housing to communities in Arizona and Michigan. They are proposing an enormous institutional 145- unit apartment complex with amenities for senior living. This will include 3 restaurants, a piano bar with a Series 12 liquor license, salon, fitness center, theatre, memory care center, and dog park in the heart of our low profile, residential community. In addition, there will be apartments for visiting relatives and respite care opportunities for non-residents. If you were to remove the senior living amenities, this would be nothing more than a luxury apartment complex. They are requesting a zoning change of a PUD (Planned Unit Development) to alter the R1-10 zoning for their apartment complex. According to the City of Phoenix, a PUD “is a zoning designation intended to create a built environment superior to that which is accomplished through conventional zoning districts”. This PUD would be an inferior and detrimental use of the current zoning. As we discussed, we are not opposed to housing for seniors-we oppose the zoning change from residential to a commercial use.
We strongly object to this PUD for the following reasons:
There are no PUDs in North Central. In mature neighborhoods, developers should respect the current conventional zoning. A PUD is used is unique circumstances where there is no other option to the conventional zoning.
The height and scale of this proposed development is grossly out of character for our neighborhood: Under the parameters of the PUD, IPA is requesting for a maximum height allowance of 53 feet. According to the elevations in the application, it appears they will use the entire 53’ on most of this development. The Memory Care building is 2 stories, but we have not verified the actual height by their definition of 2 stories.
There is NO STRUCTURE from 7th St to 7th Ave., Missouri to Northern that is of this height. We are predominantly a low profile neighborhood with ranch-style housing on each and every street. Even the commercial areas on 7th Street and 7th Avenue do not boast this height, all contributing to the residential feel of this neighborhood. Allowing IPA to build this massive institutional apartment complex in the heart of North Central, would clearly change the character of our neighborhood and significantly reduce adjacent property values.
Since the largest percentage of buildings in our area are single family homes, we are able to enjoy many view corridors-with lovely vistas to Piestawa Peak. This proposal would allow a 53’ tall, acre-sized main building with octopus-like extensions reaching out to nearly 4-5 acres-all one enormous, flat -roofed building with no visual breaks in the architecture. Our view corridors would be lost forever and the massive impact this would have to the surrounding neighborhood would be irreparable.
We personally spent nearly 2 hours with IPA - Eric Johnston, IPA principal from Ahwatukee and Jean Constantine, IPA project manager and engineer from Michigan- on August 31. Since they are both from out of town and unfamiliar with North Central, we drove throughout our neighborhood while physically showing them the low height and scale and the predominance of residential zoning. I stated that it would be grossly inappropriate to build an institution of this height and girth and asked them to consider creating new plans with a design more in keeping with our low profile neighborhood.
The Architecture:- We also discussed with IPA was the exterior of this massive complex (which Mr. Johnston referred to as the “skin”) . Councilman, your first reaction after seeing the elevation was similar to mine- it looks very similar to the Kierland shopping mall in Scottsdale. This design is typical of what you would expect to see in newer communities outside of Phoenix Being a mature neighborhood, the appeal of North Central is its uniqueness of older architecture – from historic homes on large lots to one-story ranch homes on smaller lots. I don’t know if IPA just selected a design they used in a previous project, but clearly this was not designed with North Central in mind.
Precedent: The financial health of a church is not the responsibility of the neighborhood, as the financial health of the neighborhood is not the responsibility of the church. However, the reason the church land has value is due to the surrounding neighborhood. Anywhere else, this land would be worth far less.
As stated earlier, the NCPHA area is dense with church land. Allowing developers to convert residentially zoned land to a commercial use would create a domino effect for other churches that might be struggling financially. IPA has argued that this is not commercial use, however, this is a business operating for profit, with employees and amenities that would normally be allowed only in commercially zoned areas. The three existing locations that IPA owns are on commercially zoned land or had a previous comparable use: Generations in Ahwatukee is C-2; Generations at Agritopia in Gilbert is C-C and The Springs in Scottsdale was previously a senior care apartments and didn’t require a zoning change. So why would we, in the City of Phoenix, allow a change to commercial use on residentially-zoned land?
It is my understanding through multiple conversations with numerous church members who oppose this zoning change, that the church is selling the land due to financial reasons. North Phoenix Baptist Church owns 37 acres of land and is the largest church stakeholder in the NCPHA area. If this sale or lease does not satisfy or remedy their financial needs, then we must assume that more land will be sold in the future. If we allow a commercial use on 7-8 acres, what will happen a few years from now when another parcel is sold? Will we now need a bank? A pharmacy? A physical therapy office? A lock-down drug rehab center? Where does the commercial use stop?
Currently the entire 37 acres is zoned R1-10. If all the land were available for development under the current zoning, then 3 dwelling units per acre would be allowed. This would equal approximately 112 single family homes. Our infrastructure would be able to support that. However, if we have now allowed apartment usage, (R1-5 allows 52.2 apartments per acre), then the density would be nearly 2,000 apartments, which would crush our infrastructure. Go ahead and multiply that times 100 acres of church land and this would completely destabilize our NCPHA neighborhood.
We also have a few churches that are growing rapidly and may need to seek a larger property and leave our neighborhood. Would that land also be available for commercial zoning? IPA states that these are “homes” for seniors, but they are rented apartments with amenities paid for by personal wealth. Apartment dwellers do not pay property taxes. Economically, it doesn’t benefit the City of Phoenix to allow construction of apartments in lieu single family residences, especially when the underlying zoning is R1-10. In the past, churches have gained income with leasing land for non-church use: cell towers disguised as bell towers/steeples or solar farms on their roofs and farmer’s markets, etc. Allowing IPA to change the zoning would start new money- making opportunities for any church in the City of Phoenix to sell their land to the highest bidder, often being a commercial developer.
Environment and Traffic- IPA has stated that most seniors requiring assistance don’t drive and we accept that premise. However, there will be a great deal of traffic from all that comes with housing, feeding, entertaining and caring for nearly 300 people daily- including semi-trailer trucks for food, refuse, supplies, cleaning, repairs, carpeting, painting when apartments turn over, employees- 3 shifts 24/7 for the memory care; more employees for the restaurants, bar, salon, fitness center during operating hours, landscaping, maintenance, hospice, fire and ambulance, plus visitors. This would create a non-stop 24/7 flow of traffic and increased noise levels negatively impacting the surrounding residents.
When 7th Street and 7th Avenue close the center turn lanes during rush hour daily, the only way trucks will be able to get to this facility will be through the neighborhoods-on currently quiet 2- lane residential streets. Many of the residents to the south have had the burden of all the traffic associated with The Yard and other restaurants on 7th Street- deliveries and refuse pick-up that occur all hours of the day and night. Employees trying to get to the facility to work will also be forced to cut through residential streets during rush hour where we already have traffic congestion on Bethany Home, Central Avenue and 7th Ave. and 7th St.
Currently the church shuts its doors at 9:00 pm., with the balance of activity during normal daytime business hours. The additional activity of this proposed institution would be an enormous disruption to the quiet enjoyment of living to the North Central residents. The residents in this section of our community would be sandwiched between two areas of excessive sound and vibration that would directly reduce property values and the quality of life.
Residents of 3rd Street north of Montebello and Coulter Estates are already being disturbed several times a week by the church’s refuse pick-up which happens between the hours of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Neighbors have contacted the church for years without any resolution. The sound from these trucks echoes off the church buildings and can be heard throughout the neighborhood.
Application for a Series 12 Liquor License: There is no Series 12 liquor license (serving alcohol to the public) in the core of our neighborhood. We are surrounded on our perimeter with numerous restaurants and bars on Camelback, 7th Street and 7th Avenue. Not only does the church have a preschool but they also lease a portion of their land to a charter grammar school. These two schools are well within 300 horizontal feet of the proposed IPA development site. Also located nearby is the Madison School District, Beth Joseph Synagogue, the Phoenix Hebrew Academy and the New World Educational Center. Serving alcohol here would be highly inappropriate. You mentioned that this wasn’t a big deal. We strongly disagree. Again, it sets the precedent for future like-minded uses of church properties.
Abundance of Senior Options in our neighborhood: You stated that there is a lack of senior housing in Ahwatukee; however, North Central is not Ahwatukee. We are an older neighborhood with significant senior housing options as a result of the history, demographics and age of the area. We have an abundance of senior living options in North Central and I have attached a list for your review. Currently we have several senior living campuses that are similar in nature to the IPA proposed project. To name a few: The Terraces (16th St. and Morton); La Siena (Northern and 10th Street); Beatitudes Campus of Care (Glendale and 16th Ave.); The Stratford (18th Ave. and Myrtle-which I believe is another IPA owned property); and Madison Meadows (7th St and Glendale). Madison Gardens Senior Community is an excellent example of better placement being next to Cinema Park Village Shopping Center. Residents can walk directly to the grocery story, hairdresser, hardware store, dry cleaner, bank and several restaurants.
In total, there are over 49 facilities available for senior housing. Since Phoenix developed so rapidly in the last 60 years, unlike other densely developed urban areas near city centers in the U.S., Phoenix, and particularly North Central, has numerous residential options for seniors in the central city.
Defies the Core Values of the General Plan: In 2015, the City developed a revised version of the General Plan.Here are some core commitments from the City regarding neighborhoods.Every neighborhood and community should have a level of certainty. Page 55: “It is equally important to preserve those places that have made our city the great place it is today”. Page 106:
Land Use Goal: Protect residential areas from concentration of incompatible land uses that could change their character or destabilize land values; New development and expansion or redevelopment of existing development in or near residential areas should be compatible with existing uses and consistent with adopted plans. Design: Protect and enhance the character of each neighborhood and its various housing lifestyle through new development that is compatible in scale, design, and appearance.
Residential Conversion Policy: Encourage properties and neighborhoods planned for residential use to continue as residential use rather than being assembled for nonresidential development. Create new development or redevelopment that is sensitiveto the scale and character of the surrounding neighborhoods and incorporates adequate development standards to prevent negative impact(s) on the residential properties. This proposed development clearly defies the core values of our General Plan and would negatively impact the character, integrity and reduce property values if allowed.
As I stated earlier the church has the right to sell their land but not the right to change the underlying zoning. Since I believe in being solutions-driven, it is the NCPHA’s opinion the church could sell their land for residential development without the zoning change.
It is my understanding that there is a back-up offer from a residential developer(s) that satisfies the financial need of the church and would not require a zoning change. We have spoken with several of the neighbors in the area and we all would happily support residential options.
If IPA wants to build a senior community in No. Central, then perhaps they would consider looking at Tampico Apartments and Silver Springs-two apartment communities that are riddled with crime and drug use, however, attractively located on 7th Street, geographically in North Central and adjacent to all the new restaurants nearby. I am not a real estate broker or financial expert, but I would guess that the land would be less money and the location would be ideal-perhaps something to consider. We don’t oppose senior housing, only the location of it. We would be happy to work with IPA to consider other locations in the area.
We are asking you support our neighborhood and oppose this proposed PUD. We hope your leadership will help provide reasonable solutions that will prevent a lengthy, legal battle between the church/developer and the neighborhood. As you know, there are no winners at the end (except the lawyers) and during that process we will lose confidence in our City’s leaders. Honestly, I am surprised that IPA was ever encouraged to submit an application for this, since it is clearly not in keeping with our City’s General Plan and the commitment to core values for stability and certainty in our neighborhood or village.
We have met in good faith, met with the church, IPA, IPA’s legal representatives, Planning and Development and your office. As always, we are willing to participate in conversations with others as needed. This will be a major point of discussion at the NCPHA’s Annual meeting later this month and it is unfortunate that you will not be able to attend. We appreciate your attendance over the years and will look forward to seeing and hearing from your chief of staff.
We hope you realize the importance of this matter to our neighborhood.
cc: Mayor Greg Stanton