Panel advances Arcadia projects-The Arizona Republic

The Phoenix City Council could consider as early as next week the first of three projects at 44th Street and Camelback Road.

This week, the Phoenix Planning Commission, over the objections of some residents, approved the projects, which include two hotels, hundreds of housing units, and dozens of shops and restaurants. "We were heartbroken and offended," neighborhood resident Mike Pressendo said about the commission decision Wednesday to move ahead with the projects. "This was a slap in the face to the community."

A coalition of neighborhood groups is concerned about additional height, density and traffic on the corner, as well as the preservation of a historic bank building.At issue are properties on the two southern corners and the northwestern corner of the intersection in the heart of the Arcadia neighborhood.

The intersection lies midway between Biltmore Fashion Park and Scottsdale Fashion Square, and 44th Street is the only north-south road between 32nd and 64th streets that passes through the mountains to the north.

The project sites are home to iconic "mushroom" architecture in the Chase Bank building, erected in the mid-’60s; a mid-rise office building in the 70-foot-tall Londen Center; and a rundown office project in Camelsquare.

The approved projects include:

• A mixed-use development on 7.32 acres surrounding the Londen Center on the southwestern corner, which includes a hotel. The Grace Communities plan was praised for a good sense of the neighborhood, appropriate height setbacks to a maximum of 49 feet, and a close relationship with neighboring homeowners. It’s the only one of the three projects that a neighborhood coalition is not opposing.

• A three-story condo and retail building on the Chase Bank property. The proposal was downsized and the design changed in response to neighborhood opposition.

Residents remain opposed, saying that no agreement has been reached with the bank on preservation of its building, and that the new building would wall off an office project and neighborhoods to the southeast.

The project was approved on a 7-1 vote, and commission Chairman Don Keuth urged the developer, Opus, to continue working with the bank on a long-term preservation plan.

• A 17-acre project mixing a large residential component with retail and a small medical office building, and a hotel is the most controversial of the projects.

The developer, M3 Cos., had offered a site plan that included three 98-foot-tall buildings for condos, which would replace the aging Camelsquare office development. With a height lowered to 70 feet, about the height of the Londen Center, the commission approved the project 5-3.

Commissioners also approved the northwestern half of the site, which would feature single-family homes and townhouses.

M3 plans to take its original plan to the City Council, said Scott Schirmer, a partner in the company. Bob Pohlman, a nearby resident and neighborhood leader who has argued against the Camelsquare plan, expressed his disappointment over the commission’s decision. "It still has core density," he said.

Opponents argued that the project was better suited for areas designated as village cores by the City Council, where high-rise office and residential buildings may be concentrated.

Paul Barnes, who has rallied the neighborhood, said his coalition would concentrate its efforts on the southeastern and northwestern corners, even though members do not fully approve of the Grace Communities project on the southwestern corner. At least the Grace project has widespread support among immediate neighbors, Barnes said.

"We feel the City Council will reverse the decision on the bank site, unless they can get a 30-year easement," Barnes said. That means preserving the building for at least that long.

Barnes said the group also would continue to work on the northwestern site.

"We’re happy they brought the height down," he said, "but 70 feet is still too high."

Schirmer said Thursday, "Our vision all along has been to develop an elegant residential resort that is consistent with the image that we should have for Camelback Road."

The council is scheduled to consider the Opus project, where the bank is situated, at its meeting on Wednesday. The other two projects are scheduled for the council’s Nov. 7 meeting.

Michael Clancy

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