Traffic concerns snarl Upper Canyon’s bid for city approval
- By Paul Maryniak, AFN Executive Editor
- Aug 10, 2022
The Phoenix Planning Commission on Aug. 4 dealt a 30-day setback to the developers’ timetable for the massive Upper Canyon development in Ahwatukee after expressing confusion over their request and questioning city staff’s analysis of a related traffic study.
Blandford Homes and subsidiary Reserve 100 LLC have the zoning to build 1,050 mostly single-story houses, 150 build-to-rent townhouses and 329 apartments on the 373-acre former State Trust Land parcel along Chandler Boulevard between 19th and 27th avenues.
But they need City Council approval of a proposal to leave South Chandler Boulevard at three lanes and downgrade the classification of 27th Avenue between the Boulevard and South Mountain Freeway from “arterial” to “collector” street.
They had hoped to get Planning Commission approval during last week’s virtual hearing in time for City Council to act on it at its first post-summer-vacation meeting Sept. 7. Blandford and Reserve 100 aim to start selling houses by 2024.
But their timetable was thrown off by at least 30 days after the Commission directed them to more clearly explain the impact of so many homes on traffic and road safety in light of their opposition to widening South Chandler Boulevard.
Some commission members also complained Blandford’s reasoning confused them while residents who opposed the plan said Blandford wants to avoid the cost of road widening and have more land for more houses.
Residents fear for the ability of emergency vehicles to access not only Upper Canyon but the three communities west of there – Foothills Reserve, Promontory and Calabria.
Among those expressing concern was John Barton, one of the developers of those three communities.
Stressing that he supported the Upper Canyon development, Barton nevertheless ripped Blandford’s request, noting that the nearest fire station is six miles away and the city has no immediate plans to build one in western Ahwatukee.
He also said hundreds of vehicles from Upper Canyon spilling onto South Chandler Boulevard at 30 m.p.h. would inconvenience residents in the neighboring three communities.
“We are all being inconvenienced so Blandford can benefit by a reduced cost for the road as well as obtaining more land” for homes, he said.
Barton noted the issue is more important now because the Arizona Department of Transportation years ago discarded plans for a freeway exit at 25th Avenue, making 17th Avenue the major route for Upper Canyon traffic to and from the freeway. ADOT made the move after Phoenix officials quietly requested it years ago.
Like other residents who spoke out against Blandford’s plan, Tim Burger said he and his neighbors never had a chance to review the developer’s traffic study and asked the commission to delay a vote so their own experts could examine the study.
The traffic impact analysis by Kimley-Horn and Associates estimates that the incoming Upper Canyon will generate a maximum 13,704 daily trips after buildout and provides a vision for how those trips will impact traffic in the area.
Besides concluding that the Chandler Boulevard segments do not need widening because traffic from the development would go onto 17th Avenue to reach and leave the freeway, it also concluded that no signal will be needed at the planned Liberty Lane-South Chandler Boulevard intersection once Liberty Lane is extended across the development.
It also said traffic at 17th Avenue and Liberty Lane will experience rush hour delays and that that intersection likely will need a signal after build-out.
“If it’s not going to be voted down tonight,” Burger told the panel, referring to Blandford’s request, “I am requesting that you delay a decision until the traffic study can be reviewed by the people who are most affected by this.”
Resident Todd Hamel added to the chorus of opponents, arguing Blandford was building a bottleneck with its design.
“When we’re talking about safety – whether it’s fire-response time, ambulance-response time and frankly, sustainability – we’re going to create problems,” Hamel said.
But Blandford representatives pushed back at the residents’ request, saying “it makes no sense to us” to widen the three-lane segment of Chandler Boulevard.
“One of the things you haven’t heard tonight,” said one representative, “is the existing condition of excess speeding on Chandler Boulevard and we believe to build five lanes is going to make that condition worse.”
Several Planning Commission members were confused by Blandford’s request, with one stating he could not recall ever hearing a case involving a street-related zoning application, adding, “I’m just not too comfortable with this particular case because I don’t feel I have a good grasp of it.”
Commissioner Lisa Perez said she had read the proposal multiple times and yet, “I was very confused by it.” She said she talked to city planning staff and to three Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee members “and I am still confused by it and a little disturbed by it.”
“I live in a community that relies on the fact and the history where the city has said ‘yes, those roads are going to be approved,’” she said. “It’s a big deal for me,” noting residents’ testimony the city had promised to widen Chandler Boulevard.
She also questioned Blandford’s plan to install parallel-parking slots along Chandler Boulevard to allow for more South Mountain Preserve hikes to park their vehicles, saying “I don’t get that.”
“I know what it feels like to have roads not improved when they were promised to you,” Perez said. “I think it’s not such a good idea and the City of Phoenix Transportation Department did not convince me that it was a good idea.”
She noted the Ahwatukee Planning Committee itself only narrowly recommended approval of the street reclassifications and moved to continue the case so the developers “can come back and explain this a little bit better.”
Other members also said they wanted to hear from city staff and give residents a chance to examine the developer’s traffic study.
Another said “I’d be a little hard pressed to be convinced” by Blandford and said the developer’s explanation “didn’t give me a ‘warm and fuzzy.’”
In delaying the case for 30 days, they also warned Blandford representatives to come back with more than a rehash of what they have already said.
“They better have really good facts of how this is going to be not only for the neighbors but for the thousands of houses they’re putting in there,” one member said.