Carefree rises to the Easy Street occasion

Jim Van Allen
Jim Van Allen

CAREFREE – Before digging into Tuesday night’s council meeting agenda, Councilman Jim Van Allen asked for a minute of silence to pray for the people of Houston.

Several items were pulled from the consent agenda for a variety of reasons, including two by Van Allen for bicycle events in October and November.

Van Allen said there were safety concerns for bicycle traffic on main roads through town and asked that the special events be approved with the provision uniformed security officers are stationed at four major intersections.

The items passed unanimously with that amendment.

Several other special event items were pulled that included the upcoming Thunderbird Artists Wine and Fine Art festival so that CEO Judi Combs could update council on the festival, which will be celebrating its 25th year in Carefree.

Councilman Mike Farrar questioned if the street closure on Sunshine Way was really necessary.

Another road was pointed to on the map that would give residents access to the post office from the northeast, although there was confusion over the name of the road.

It was explained that opening up Sunshine Way would be a safety concern because not only would it split off a section of artists’ booths from the rest of the festival, it would introduce vehicles where festival goers would be walking.

Carefree – Cave Creek Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Patty Villeneuve explained the boundaries on the map have remained the same and due to liquor licensing, they can move the boundaries in but can’t move them out.

She said they keep it the same every year so they have flexibility depending on the number of participants.

Warren Lindell

Warren Lindell, a Carefree resident and owner of Easy Street Boutique, spoke during Call to the Public to say how much he appreciated all the special events except for one that has not affected him positively.

He said when the town holds its Concerts in the Park series his business goes to zero.

According to Lindell, the concerts used to be held three to four weeks in May but he just received notification that they will now be held during February, March and April, which he said are prime sales months.

He offered, as a solution, that they change in the time of the concerts to later in the day.

Pointing out the town pays the musicians $2,000, Lindell said it was costing the town $2,000 to lose $3,000 in sales tax revenue and suggested they use the venue for local aspiring artists from nearby schools.

John Traynor
John Traynor

John Traynor also spoke during Call to the Public to ask council to “think long and hard about placing a very large building in the center of town,” before they considered the only general agenda item, a revision of the development agreement previously entered into with Ed Lewis for its new owners, Robert Stehlik of Starworks Global Development, LLC and Lawrence Gabriele of Azil Development, LLC.

Traynor asked council to be explicit when discussing the height of the building and talk in feet versus the number of floors.

Gary Neiss
Gary Neiss

Town Administrator Gary Neiss updated council on the progress of the new council chambers and said they received an environmental clearance showing there was no asbestos in the building.

Neiss said everything was progressing quite nicely and stated it will be done in November.

Mayor Les Peterson provided an update on the Enchanted Pumpkin Garden schedule of events, featuring world renowned artist Ray Villafane, that will be running Oct. 20 through 29 in the Carefree Desert Gardens and Sanderson Lincoln Pavilion.

Neiss introduced the general agenda item and said it’s going on probably close to 45 years trying to develop the town center.

He said, “It’s very important to get this correct.

Neiss said the town had engaged the Urban Land Institute and then engaged the award-winning Michael Baker Group to produce a revitalization plan.

“This didn’t happen overnight,” said Neiss.

The studies concluded the town needs a residential component and, while the Ed Lewis project didn’t pan out, his successors will be trying to marry the town’s vision with their niche in the market.

Neiss stated, “We need additional critical mass.”

He said the first step is revisiting the development agreement and requested changes.

The next step would be the site plan review by the development review board and then permits.

Larry Gabriele
Larry Gabriele

Gabriele said they were asking for a four-foot height adjustment (increase) over what the Lewis development agreement and conditional use permit allowed.

He said the Easy Street condo project proposed by Lewis was 48 feet.

Gabriele stated they have been in this business for over 50 years in Arizona, Illinois and Florida, some of which have won awards, and said they plan to build a 134-unit luxury apartment complex.

Their vision, he said, was to make money of course, as well as be part of a community that needs revitalization.

Pointing out Carefree is considered an upscale community Gabriele said the apartment complex will be loaded with amenities.

Van Allen said the document before council had no attachments so they didn’t have any idea what the proposed project will like.

Gabriele stated they didn’t have any elevations yet because they didn’t know if they would be granted the height adjustment.

Van Allen asked if they closed on the property.

Gabriele said they had not and it was contingent on whether council approved their request in order to move forward.

Van Allen displayed a chart showing where the agreement indicated the location on the parcel from where it would measure to the top height of 52 feet and it was close to highest elevation on the parcel.

Van Allen stated the 42-foot height plus the four feet allowed to screen equipment is only 46 feet not 48.

Neiss said the conditional use permit allowed for six feet for screening.

Van Allen said the way the document was worded it allows for a 60-foot tall building.

Architect Douglas Whitneybell, who was also the architect for the Lewis project, said there was no downgrade at all from that project.

He said it was designed with a second floor pool, which gave them more design opportunities so they wouldn’t end up with just a large box that the Lewis project seemed to become.

He said the gated parking was all under the building with two spaces per unit.

Van Allen asked Gabriele if he could look at less height and still be able to move forward with the project.

Gabriele responded, “No.”

He said it was a four-story building above ground and two below.

Farrar stated, “For this body, this is a one-shot deal.”

Councilman Michael Krahe said the building would be adjacent to the retreat so the height of the project would flow.

Van Allen asked if the project could come back to council after the development review board.

Peterson said that was discussed but it was decided that it was better not to politicize the project.

Neiss stated they could do that but it’s typically not done.

Gabriele stated it would become a financing issue for them if it had to go back to council after being approved by the development review board.

Van Allen insisted everyone on council wants the project to move forward.

Krahe asked why they wouldn’t want to do what they normally do, especially if it could affect their financing.

Neiss pointed out both CVS and Lowe’s had won numerous awards and were projects approved by the development review board.

During public comment, Traynor said what he objected to previously was the height.

“Bottom line,” he said, “this is a very large building.”

He then lamented the sale on the property hadn’t closed.

Farrar stated he doesn’t know any developer that would close on a sale prior to approval.

Traynor stated it was an economic decision.

Lindell also spoke and stated he’s heard condo versus apartment and asked, “What are we doing here?”

Gabriele responded, “Rental.”

Lindell said he wanted to know, since no one on council asked, why they needed an additional four feet and why not go an additional four feet underground.

Gabriele stated it wasn’t economically feasible.

Lindell then suggested they provide some low-income units in the project so that the cook in the restaurant can live there too.

Councilman Gene Orrico said there were rentals across the street for $700 month.

Council voted 6-1 in favor of amending the development agreement and move the project forward with Van Allen dissenting.