July 20, 2024

Despite public outcry, city greenlights future apartments at Copper Falls

Buckeye City Council, in a four-to-one vote, approved an amendment to the Copper Falls Community Master Plan on Miller and Broadway Roads to accommodate multi-family and commercial use.

The decision followed a lengthy discussion that dominated last night's regular council meeting. Several residents expressed adamant concern, frustration and disappointment about the upcoming development during public comment.

Copper Falls encompasses 276 acres.  The council’s decision amended use of the northernmost 72 acres, owned by California-based GM Gabrych Family LP, for commercial and multifamily housing at the corner of Miller and Broadway. GM Gabrych Family LP was represented by Tiffany & Bosco P.A.

Senior Planner Kurt A. Jones said the project has been ongoing since early 2022 with a goal of addressing the September 2022 Housing Shortage Proclamation. The city’s principal planner, Ken Galica, said the development will accommodate employees of new businesses in the city including the Ross Dress for Less Distribution Center. The development will also include an area designated for the city to build a new fire station. 

The amendment was approved by Mayor Eric Orsborn, District 2 Councilmember Jeanine Guy, who attended virtually, District 5 Councilmember Craig Heustis and District 6 Councilmember Clay Goodman. District 4 Councilmember Patrick HagEstad was absent. District 3 Councilmember Michelle Hess was the lone dissenter. Councilmember Tony Youngker of District 1 abstained due to conflict of interest. Youngker resides in the northernmost area of Copper Falls in a family trust-owned homestead.

Slide from City Council meeting [Hanna Ghabhain]
Slide from City Council meeting [Hanna Ghabhain]

Residents express dissent

Multiple residents expressed dissent during the public hearing. Susie Newland, resident of the adjacent Northwood Park Estates, was concerned about the traffic “nightmare” on Miller which she described as being backed up with bumper-to-bumper traffic. While the developers discussed improvements to the roads, Newland questioned if those changes would improve the Northwood side. She also expressed worry around water shortages, light pollution and increased crime. Parkside resident Pamela Hamilton echoed concern for over crime rates.

“Buckeye was a nice little community and it’s being destroyed, and you people are allowing it,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know what else to say. If you guys don’t want to listen to the people who vote for you, I guess we need to vote for someone else.”

Northwood Park resident Derek Newman expressed concern regarding the impact of urban development on Buckeye’s agricultural roots. Melissa Hamilton, who lives north of the Monroe Street City Hall, asked if the council understood Copper Fall’s impact on the community and questioned if the schools, fire department and police department could handle the incoming residents.

“The police department and fire department are already stretched thin, so let’s add 25 more families per acre and put more police at even more of a disadvantage,” she said. “Why is this city working so hard to put families on top of families on top of families without putting in people to protect them? We only live here and pay all your salaries and taxes to make the city run and then our opinions don’t matter.”

Buckeye Police Department Police Chief Bob Sanders replied in two sentences: “Crime rates stay consistent with people who move into areas. I don’t expect an influx of what we can’t handle staff wise.”

Northwood Park Estates HOA Board Member Mike Dyrcz, who is also an employee of the Buckeye Fire Medical Rescue Department, questioned the validity of the developer’s claim that they obtained signatures from residents and said a development of this type would not be allowed in Verrado. He questioned if allowing the amendment was because of the land given to the city for the fire station. He alleged the land was not going to be used for a fire station, to which Jones responded that the usage of that land for the department is worked into the stipulations. Dyrcz also said he is concerned traffic will become a safety issue in the corridor. 

In response to the concerns, City Traffic Engineer John Willett suggested providing two lanes in each direction along the frontage. He also said that there is currently a request submitted for a southbound, right-turn lane off Miller. Galica said light pollution will not likely occur from the three-story units, but may become an issue from streetlights.

Councilmember Hess [City of Buckeye]
Councilmember Hess [City of Buckeye]

Hess votes no

Councilmember Hess, who lives near the development, echoed citizen concerns — particularly around home density. She was also concerned about the number of rental properties, saying there should be more options for home ownership, which was the original zoning of the land. She also expressed issues with water management, traffic problems and questioned if the plan is suitable for longevity.

“We are trying to steward something for a really long time that goes beyond us,” she said. “I don’t want to make a decision in favor of something where I’m creating a problem I don’t have an answer to. At the end of the day, I bought in that area, we bought in that area, thinking we were sitting next to a quiet community … I feel like we are not getting the same forethought on Miller Road and planning for us that live there, including myself.” 

Following the council meeting, Hess said she was disappointed with the decision. The next step for Copper Falls will be to identify apartment, housing and commercial developers. She said residents who continue to dissent the project can put pressure on road development to alleviate traffic issues. 

Other business

Although Copper Falls took the majority of the council meeting’s time, the council also unanimously approved items on the consent agenda which included:

  • An agreement with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. Approximately 50% of Buckeye’s economic development leads come from GPEC, according to the meeting agenda. Membership costs for fiscal year 2024-2025 are not to exceed $53,734.
  • The approval of the receipt of a Federal Aviation Administration and Arizona Department of Transportation grant for up to $2.7 million. This will go toward the South Apron and Taxiway J Phase II project.
  • Submitting a Siting Plan Application for the $105,700 Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Program grant from the Maricopa Association of Governments. 
  • Action on funding reimbursement of up to $243,587 from the Arizona Department of Public Safety to Buckeye Police Department for the purchase of three MX908 mobile spectrometers to detect substance use in the field. This agreement is part of an initiative related to prosecution, diversion and testing of fentanyl use, according to the meeting agenda.
  • Approving the Public Infrastructure Reimbursement Agreement with Bungalows at Sundance, a 35-acre development. The PIRA designates the owner as eligible for reimbursement up to $2.7 million for designing, constructing and installing regional public infrastructure

Council also approved two applicants for the combined $53,000 Economic Development Catalyst program. The applicants were HFFV Investments for $50,000 and Flat Tortilla for $3,000.

The entire city council agenda packet can be found at this link. 

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