Curious about what’s going on with Surprise’s downtown? You’re not alone.
The downtown Surprise landowner, Surprise Center Development Co., will update the City Council on development in the area at 4 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
Councilman Skip Hall said he called for the public meeting after hearing that a gaggle of elected officials, planning and zoning commissioners and staff discussed downtown development behind closed doors a few weeks ago.
“I thought it’s in the best interest of the city if we have a public meeting that’s very transparent and talk about what’s going on in City Center,” Hall told The Arizona Republic.
He suggests public meetings between the council and landowners continue on a quarterly basis.
Councilman Todd Tande, who said the closed-door meeting was about developing a master plan for downtown, said he was excited to discuss downtown Surprise in public and hoped an engaged community would offer input.
A vague swipe during the State of the City
During her State of the City address on Monday, Mayor Sharon Wolcott said two out of Surprise Center Development Co.’s three partners agreed to work with the city during the private meeting.
“To that end, I’m pleased to share that two of the three City Center landowners have committed to working collaboratively with us to develop a detailed downtown master plan,” Wolcott said. “Now if we can get the last owner to agree, we can make that unanimous.”
The three partners that own large swaths of land from Bullard to Litchfield roads and Greenway to Bell roads include:
- Rick West and Scott Phillips of Carefree Partners.
- Joe La Rue of Sun Health Partners.
- Robert McKee of Tai Wi Wi Ranches.
Wolcott did not specify which owner held out and did not respond the The Repbulic’s request for comment.
A troubled past
The relationship between the landowners and city officials hasn’t been on the best of terms.
The city sued Surprise Center Development Co. in 2014 for taking too long to develop downtown. Phoenix-based Carefree Partners, the group’s managing partner, responded with a $101 million countersuit.
The city agreed to settle after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge sided with the landowners.
Residential development in the area stalled after a divided council denied a proposed housing project in a 4-3 vote last summer. The development’s opponents argued that downtown Surprise needed apartments and condos to attract Millennials to the region.
The project’s supporters said there was plenty of downtown space for high-density housing elsewhere and any new development would spur economic growth.
Drive-through restaurants such as Starbucks and Raising Cane’s popped up in Surprise’s downtown since then, with a much-requested In-N-Out Burger on the way. But much of the land surrounding City Center remains undeveloped.
Burying the hatchet
Scott Phillips, vice president of Carefree Partners and chairman of the Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the council’s denial of the Mattamy Homes project hindered Surprise Center Development Co.’s ability to attract developers.
“The council is unpredictable at best,” Phillips told The Republic. “An unpredictable council makes it a challenge for businesses to know what they’re in for.”
Carefree Partners President Rick West said he hopes for a productive meeting.
“We’re looking forward to having the opportunity to share our thoughts and elicit feedback from both the Planning and Zoning Commission as well as the council, and to have the greater community be aware of the process that people go through to develop something like this,” West said.
Councilman Patrick Duffy said he hopes to see folks forget the past and work past the gridlock. Duffy was not on the council when it denied the Mattamy Homes development.
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