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Following a marathon 7-hour session with as many as 300 people in attendance the Town Council gave provisional approval for the controversial Daybreak apartment community in Fountain Hills.

On votes of 5-2 the council approved the minor General Plan amendment and Daybreak PAD land plan for the zoning.

The council delayed action on the development agreement for the project as Mayor Ginny Dickey asked for an additional closed executive session to discuss it. A vote on the agreement would take place in open session.

In its approval of the PAD the council stipulated that the developer needs to bring back a more detailed land plan for final approval. They are requesting details on how the development will adhere to staff stipulations requiring enhanced amenities and exceptional design. Paul Gilbert, a land use attorney representing the developer, said they will meet all staff stipulations. The council action allows until December 2020 for completion of the detailed plan.

The votes in support of the project were from Vice Mayor Sherry Leckrone and Council Members Dennis Brown, Alan Magazine, Mike Scharnow and Art Tolis. Mayor Dickey and Councilman David Spelich were opposed.

Development plan

The proposal for the Daybreak project includes the Planned Area Development (PAD) on a 60-acre parcel located off Palisades Boulevard just north of Shea Boulevard. The proposed development agreement requires the builder to maintain at least 33 acres of open space on the entire parcel. This would leave approximately 27 acres in which to develop 400 apartment units.

The developer, Hilltop Vista Properties, Inc. is proposing 270 one-, two- and three-bedroom units open to all renters including families. The remaining 130 units are to be designated as age restricted for adults age 55 and older.

While the council hearing had more public support for the plan than was presented at the P&Z hearing on the project, opponents still substantially outnumbered those in favor. Town Clerk Liz Burke told the council she had a record of 408 people in support and 678 opposed. That includes people who filled out speaker cards as well as petitions presented by both sides. About three dozen people spoke during the public hearing that went until 12:30 a.m. Opponents cited concerns with traffic safety, density, out-of-town developers and a belief that the current zoning for a resort hotel was more appropriate for the parcel (see separate story).

Council comment

In speaking to her vote opposing the plan Mayor Ginny Dickey said she is not ready to give up on the General Plan designation for the site (lodging).

“A lot of residents purchased homes in the area using the General Plan to know what will be built in the area,” Dickey said. “This changes expectations of what can be built in the neighborhood.”

She also said that the Planning and Zoning Commission provided a clear view that this is the last site in town for lodging. Dickey said she does not believe this is a good location for multi-family.

“What is the urgency?” Dickey said. “There are a lot of reasons to honor the commitment (of the General Plan).”

In explaining her vote to support, Vice Mayor Sherry Leckrone said she believes the town will benefit from the project.

“We want to encourage developers to bring projects to the community, and this rental development will be helpful,” Leckrone said. “I empathize with the nearby homeowners, but when you purchase next to a vacant parcel there is a risk it may be developed.”

Leckrone said she served on Planning and Zoning and has respect for the job they do.

“I was looking for facts and reasoning behind their vote and didn’t see it.”

In presenting his vote in opposition Councilman David Spelich said he does not consider this a “minor” amendment to the General Plan.

“I believe this is a major amendment,” Spelich said. “(Also) I don’t think we should disregard the opinions of the people we appointed to the Planning and Zoning Commission to advise us. This is an insult to them.”

Spelich added that he was first attracted to Fountain Hills by the view from the crest on Palisades, and does not want to risk obscuring that vista.

Councilman Dennis Brown said he does not consider rejection of the P&Z recommendation to be an insult. He served for a number years on the commission and noted such action is not uncommon.

“When I was on P&Z we had the council overturn recommendations,” Brown said. “The commission takes a narrow view of proposals, while the council looks at a much broader picture.”

Brown, who is a homebuilder and owner of Echelon Company contractors in Fountain Hills, said he is concerned rejection of the project could trigger a negative impact for the community.

“If we turn down this plan I can assure you that by breakfast tomorrow every developer in the Valley will know about this and will not want to work with the Town of Fountain Hills,” Brown said.