Developement of our Carefree town center is a good thing

The Carefree Town Council recently approved a development agreement with Starworks Global Development to build luxury rental residences in the downtown area.

This very important project represents an intrinsic change in the Town’s core. Over the past few years the Town council have undertaken outside, independent studies and recommendations from economic and planning consultants to determine the direction we need to take to make our town stronger and better, such as: Urban Land Institute’s Technical Assistance Panel, Michael Baker International’s Carefree Town Center Revitalization Plan (Winner of the Best Master Plan Project in AZ), Greater Phoenix Economic Council, Marty DeRito (CEO of DeRito Partners), Christine Mackay (City of Phoenix Economic Development Director), Steve Betts (Carefree Development Advisor & ex-SunCor Development Company President), and many other respected commercial real estate brokers/developers. All have recommended that multi-family residences in our town corenot only adds population mass which is necessary to our existing business owners, but also attracts new businesses into our community. A denser, permanent housing option in our town core will be an economic driver and in turn, add value to our restaurants and merchants, and continue to drive new opportunities for our community as well as reduce the seasonality swings we experience each summer. 

While there has been a lot of discussion about the building’s height, here are the facts:

In urban neighborhoods such as the Town Center, it is typical to measure building height from the average vertical curb elevation fronting the development site. In 2006 when this parcel’s original development was proposed, the average curb height was defined at the northeast corner of the site along Easy Street. At this time, the building was proposed and approved at 43 feet which included a 6 foot parapet to screen mechanical equipment on the roof. In 2015, upon conclusion of the community driven Town Center Revitalization plan, the project evolved from a mixed use project with retail on street level to a high end condominium development. In order to support the higher end condominiums the original building height was increased and fully entitled by an additional 5 feet to a total of 48 feet. Due to lending red tape from the previous developer, this project did not move forward and the property was foreclosed upon. The present owner and new development team have evaluated the Revitalization Plan, the market and the site to propose a high end luxury rental community with a resort lifestyle; however, in order to ensure the project can be built they requested to revisit the height and proposed an additional 4 feet bringing the building to a total of 52 feet, once again measured from the northeast corner of the site. It is true that due to the grade slope of the land, one side of the property will be lower than the other, thereby exposing more of the building height on one end than the other.

Height increases are always a concern for the Council and our residents, but in this instance it is a minor consideration since what we gain in totality overrides any small height increase differential. 

From a structure design standpoint, the Starworks project has been awarded to Whitney Bell, one of the leading architecture firms in the country.

The Starworks project’s architectural design proposal will progress through the members of Carefree’s Design Review Board (DRB) for approval. The DRB is made up of 7 members appointed by the Town Council. The goal of the design review board is to maintain and enhance the character of the Town; enhance the natural and aesthetic qualities of the Town, preserve the value of land and buildings; and protect and preserve the cultural aspects and heritage of Carefree. The DRB assists the Town Council and Planning Commission in reviewing and evaluating proposed site design, architecture, signs, and landscaping. The scope of the DRB’s review and approval authority is established by the Town Council. The members of the Planning & Zoning Commission also serve on the DRB. Thus, I have every confidence in our Design Review Board and their ability to work with this developer to bring an aesthetically pleasing building design to our community.

In short, how often have you heard an ample supply of housing stock options mentioned as an asset? Instead, conversations about housing usually focus on the cost to taxpayers and rarely take into account the fiscal and economic benefits that accrue when communities encourage the development of varying types of residential units. When homes or apartments are built or rehabbed, the funds flowing to cities and states can be considerable. Revenues can take the form of fees for rental tax, and utilities, or they can reflect sales, or income generated by construction-related economic activities.

As cities and counties across the country try to bring their revenues and expenditures in-line and prioritize how to spend scarce resources, policymakers and planners understand the benefits of well-designed housing projects.

After spending 20+ years in commercial and residential real estate, I can honestly say from my experience this will be a major addition to the Town both economically and aesthetically.

Even more importantly, long after the apartments are occupied, the ripple effect from residents of these new units can support new customers for the shops and restaurants, business expansion, activity for the streets, and nighttime surveillance for the neighborhood. They also represent one of the most economical ways to provide economic stimulus, since the land, building and infrastructure costs are covered by the developer; the potential net economic impact and synergy to our commercial town core and surrounding community is tremendous.

Mike Farrar
Carefree Town Councilman