Mercado project

Jennifer Hall, senior project manager at Rose Law Group, spoke to the rowdy crowd at an open house about the proposed Mercado Courtyards apartments. (David Minton/Progress Staff Photographer)

A raucous crowd of about 140 residents vented disdain for the proposed Mercado Courtyard apartment complex during a recent open house for the project.

The crowd cheered and applauded each other’s comments against the project earmarked for the intersection of Shea Boulevard and 92nd Street and even broke into argument with those running the Aug. 25 event.

“How much more information does the city council need to hear?” one gentleman who only identifed himself as Mike exclaimed to a loud round of applause. “We don’t want them!”

Current plans for Mercado Courtyard call for 273 apartments one- and two-bedroom units. That comes to a density of 32 units per acre.

It would include 544 parking spots in a garage that is wrapped by buildings.

The three-story building closest to Shea would have its top floor stair-stepped back to make it look like a two story building. The building in the back would be four stories tall and would have a pool on top.

The highest building would be 46 feet. The city currently allows buildings up to 48 feet tall, plus an additional 10 feet for appurtenances on the site.

The project would also have 109,700 square feet of open space – three times what is required by the city – on the 8.52-acre site.

The project also includes renovating the existing 25,000-square foot retail building on the southern portion of the property

The developer, Scottsdale-based Caliber, is proposing a 10% discount on rent to nurses, firefighters, police, EMTs and teachers as well as anybody who works within a mile of the site.

Caliber would also install a traffic signal at the intersection across from the HonorHealth Shea Hospital, at 92nd street and Cochise Drive.

The Mercado Courtyard is the second iteration of the 92 Ironwood project. That project was slated to be voted on during the city council in February when the developer requested a second continuance.

Council denied that request and began debating the merits of the project. The attorney for the project at the time then requested it be pulled from the agenda, meaning it would need to go before the city’s Development Review Board and Planning Commission before it could go to the council.

The Planning Commission voted 4-3 to recommend approval of a plan that originally consisted of 338 last September and the Design Review Board voted 6-0 to recommend approval earlier that month.

The new iteration of the project has not yet gone before the DRB, planning commission or city council.

Resident Geoff Kull was upset that the new attorney on the project – Jennifer Hall of the Rose Law Group – and representatives of Caliber could not say what rents for the apartments would be.

“Unless you can come up and tell us that a standard rate for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom is around $2,500 now in Scottsdale and you’re reaching to come in at $1,000 or $1,200 – unless you’re ready to tell us that’s the rate you’re prepared to offer … we know what this is really about,” Kull said.

“It’s about developers coming in, putting in a project, making a lot of money and at the end of the day you move away and we’re stuck with what’s here.”

City Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield called the open house “one of the stupidest things I’ve seen a developer do.”

“Bring all these people out here and have no answers, especially when they know ahead of time that folks are not happy with this,” she said. “All they’re doing is making people angry. It’s crazy. It makes no sense to do this. They should have had pictures and they should have had answers.”

Resident Ellen Speranzo wasn’t impressed with the answers from Hall.

“I’m a retired teacher; my daughter is a teacher,” she said. “I understand that teachers, firefighters, and EMTs would benefit from reduced cost housing so I came thinking maybe there’s some good in this because we will be helping nurses and other professionals that we need in our community.

“When I asked what the rents would be, (Hall) said she didn’t know. When I asked what the salaries in the helping professions are, they couldn’t tell me. They don’t know how much nurses, doctors, teachers make. I said, they won’t be able to afford the cost of your units. And her quote was ‘We’re not doing affordable housing.’”

Speranzo also took issue with the height of the buildings.

“We moved from Boston years ago to come out here,” she said. “You can see the sky here! If we keep building four stories, the next year it will be five stories, the year after it’s going to be six stories and we won’t see the sky anymore.

“And that’s the least of it,” she continued. “The water issue is an enormous pressure. We’re supposed to reduce water by 21% but putting multiple units in big buildings is just going to draw more water.”

Not everybody at the meeting was against the project though.

In total, Hall said she received 69 written comments in opposition, 54 in support and 14 general questions and comments.

Scottsdale resident Jason Alexander supported the project.

“Do we not want our families to be able to settle here?” he asked. “Just because they’re not able to buy a house, they’re not entitled to live in the city they grew up in?”

The project also has the endorsement of city Councilwoman Linda Milhaven.

“I think it’s a great project ... It’s got lots of open space. Folks are concerned about traffic. If they were to build what they’re allowed to build now, medical office space, it would have three times the traffic impact as the apartments would have.

“In fact, I was told the other day, office would have to have 1,200 spaces and this project has a little over 400, so three times the parking would be required. Folks who are most concerned about the impact of traffic should embrace the fact it’s going to be a residential use because it’s going to have far less impact than the alternative office use.”

“I think there are folks who philosophically say, ‘no apartments’ and I don’t think as a community we can say no apartments. I think to have a vibrant community we need a variety of housing options.”

“And other folks who say absolutely not because of water?” Milhaven continued. “Well, we can’t just pull up the drawbridge, so to speak, and shut down the city because we are challenged with water. All of these projects are using the latest in water conservation technologies and we need to insist that they do that.”

In fact, Milhaven eventually took over moderating the meeting, which led to a spirited conversation between her and local gallery owner Bob Pejman.

“The election told you how many people are against growth,” Pejman shouted.

Three of the four top vote getters in the city council race in the Aug. 2 election ran on limited growth platforms.

“I disagree with you, but that doesn’t mean I’m not listening to you,” Milhaven said.

“You never do,” Pejman replied.

She took a straw poll and found if the units in the project were for sale rather than rent, it would be more palatable to area residents. She also found lower height and density would also go a long way toward garnering support.

Caliber CEO and co-founder Chris Loeffler said the idea for Mercado Courtyard evolved from something called “Operation Sleep Safely,” a program in 2020, when COVID-19 hit, that allowed healthcare workers to sleep for free at Caliber-owned hotels.

“There’s nurses on a regular basis posting (on Facebook) that they can’t afford to continue to work at Honor Health Shea anymore because they can get a job in Gilbert for the same amount of money and they don’t have to drive an hour in traffic every morning,” he explained, adding:.

“Then a local developer walked into our office and said, ‘I have a piece of land that is stuck back here. This building has been bankrupt for 12 years. Would you buy this thing with me and turn it into something else?’”

He said the company has to charge the market rate for the apartments.

“Land is expensive in Scottsdale. We don’t have much of a choice there,” Loeffler said. “We think, by getting the units smaller and getting the density we are looking for, we can deliver an apartment a nurse making in the mid-range, maybe not a first-year nurse, maybe an experienced nurse making $70,000 to $80,000 a year can afford to live in.”

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