Mesa City Council wrapped up a busy year on Dec. 8 by trying to jump-start a stalled residential project that’s now just steel skeleton in the heart of downtown.
The final agenda of 2021 also included approval of more downtown housing, an east-side industrial development, utility rate increases, new technology to protect firefighters, new regulations for food trucks and a contract to ensure adequate staffing for the plants that supply Mesa’s drinking water.
Construction on a ballyhooed residential complex on city-owned land next to Benedictine University on the south side of Main Street began in March 2020.
So far, however, The Grid remains an idle construction site because of financial snags attributed to the COVID pandemic.
Jeff McVay, Mesa’s manager of downtown transformation, told Council in a report that the developers expected to get new financing early this month and plan to resume construction in January.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the project has encountered financial and construction delays and the project is not currently in compliance with those agreements,” his report stated. “During this delay, staff has continued to work with the developer to find solutions to get the project back under construction.”
But the delays have left the developer out of compliance with agreements previously made with the city. To rectify that, the Council approved amendments to the development agreement with new deadlines.
Phase 1 of construction, which includes the building facing Main Street, now is to be finished by Dec. 31, 2022. The whole project is supposed to be done a year after that.
The new deal also includes an option for the developer to buy the land and air rights associated with the property for $7 million. That would net the city $4 million more than it would have gotten under a previously approved lease arrangement.
City officials and the developers – Tony Wall of 3W Management and Karrin Taylor Robson of Arizona Strategies – held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the project in February 2020, bringing along the Westwood High School Band, local merchants and food.
The mixed-use community, which will eventually wrap around the existing Pomeroy Garage, is tucked into a 3.3-acre plot of land. When completed, the lot will include 196 “luxury sky” apartments built above the garage, as well as 75 flats, or “micro-units” that will be 400 square feet each. In addition, there are 15 rowhomes with three-story walk-ups along Main Street in front of the existing garage structure.
The project also includes 14,000 square feet of Class A office space overlooking Main Street.
New downtown apartments
The third and final phase of an apartment complex at First Avenue and Macdonald will go ahead with Council approval.
The project will add 72 units of market-rate apartments, with a swimming pool and clubhouse, to a complex whose first phases were approved in 2016 and 2019. At buildout, the complex will have seven buildings and 168 units.
Mesa is offering the developer a tax deal called a government property lease excise tax. The city will buy the property and lease it back to the developer, creating a tax break. Mesa still expects to make money on the deal, nearly $400,000 over eight years. The developer also will make a one-time payment of $27,212 to local school districts.
About 25 acres northwest of the intersection of Elliot and Signal Butte roads will be rezoned from agricultural to light industrial for a speculative industrial development.
The developer envisions three industrial buildings totaling about 243,000 square feet, with additional buildings for retail, restaurants and a service station.
Because this land is within Mesa’s much-touted Elliot Road Technology Corridor, the city is requiring the developer to sign an agreement prohibiting a wide range of uses – no churches or tattoo parlors allowed.
Utility rates up
Several previous council meetings foreshadowed final approval of a range of increases for Mesa utility customers.
Mesa operates each utility – water, wastewater, solid waste, gas and electric – as a separate business entity that has to pay its own costs as well as funneling money into the city’s general fund.
The general-fund contributions help keep the city afloat in lieu of a primary property tax, which Mesa abandoned in 1945 and which city voters rejected emphatically in a 2006 referendum.
The biggest percentage increase among the utilities will be for residential gas customers: a 10 percent hike amid spiking energy prices.
Water rates are going up by 2.5 percent for residential customers, with higher jumps for commercial users.
Overall, utilities are expected to pump $115.3 million into the general fund this fiscal year, compared with $113.9 million last year.
Concerns over occupation-related cancer prompted the Council to approve spending more than $1 million for special equipment to vent exhaust fumes in 16 of the city’s fire stations.
The systems will attach to the exhaust systems of fire apparatus when it’s necessary for their engines to be running while in the fire station bays. Without the equipment, firefighters will continue to be exposed to carcinogenic fumes while they’re in the buildings, according to staff report.
About half the cost will be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Keeping the water running
Good help is hard to find these days – and that includes people who can staff Mesa’s highly complex and essential water plants.
Mesa operates five such plants – three to treat water the city receives via its canals and wells, and two to treat the water after it runs through the sewer system.
Amid a nationwide shortage of qualified workers, the Council approved $1.5 million in contracts with two companies that can provide temporary employees. That’s the price per year, with an additional 5 percent tacked on if inflation makes that necessary. The contracts could be extended for another four years.
One of the companies, Smith Temporaries Inc., doing business as CornerStone Staffing, is based in Chandler. The other is in Los Angeles.
Food truck rules
Beginning March 1, food trucks will have to comply with new rules that sprang from complaints about vendors operating in various neighborhoods.
The previous ordinance allowed vendors to operate with 25 feet of a parcel with a residence on it. The new minimum distance is 250 feet – but there are exceptions.
The trucks can be closer than 250 feet to a residential property if the truck itself is on private property with formal City Council approval. That also will be allowed if fewer than four trucks are operating on a private property at the same time and they don’t operate there more than four times a year.
Trucks operating at a licensed special event and ice cream trucks also are exempt from the rule.
New city clerk
The Council appointed Holly Moseley as city clerk to replace DeeAnn Mickelson, who took the job in 2013.
Earlier, during the study session, the Council offered formal thanks to Christine Zielonka, who is retiring as Mesa’s development services director. She has overseen vast growth during the city’s post-recession boom.