Cover StoryNews

Mesa presents plans for 27-acre empty lot to skeptical residents

Another retail center may be built as an option for the lot development. Photo of Dana Park Shopping Center by City of Mesa

While the hired firm presented three possible construction projects on the development of Section 17, longtime Mesa residents voiced pressing concerns on money, history, and the purpose of development.

On Jan. 29, over 100 attendees packed the cafeteria of the Eisenhower Center for Innovation for the second community meeting on the 27-acre empty lot on the southwest corner of University and Mesa Drive, just above Main Street. The Mesa Legend reported on the first meeting in Volume 57, Issue 7, published in December 2018. While the first meeting sought to fact-find and gather information, the second meeting showed the result in the form of three different intensity plans to develop the lot.

Crandall Arambula, the architect and design firm contracted by Mesa to lead the project called Transform 17, presented three plans in a slideshow to residents at the meeting. The first medium intensity plan consists of residential areas, green spaces and a neighborhood center for retail. The second medium-high intensity plan compacts the residential areas and green spaces for professional offices, dining and entertainment. The third high intensity plan includes a residential neighborhood, market square, park blocks, dining, entertainment and an innovation center.

Don Arambula, the leader of the consultant team, emphasized green spaces, job opportunities and a community space for residents of Mesa and its potential tourists. Among the mentioned possibilities were a brewery, walking environments with space for scooters and wheelchairs and dining and entertainment. The high intensity plan even included the option of a 20-story high-rise apartment building. Above all, the firm and residents agreed there would be a grocery store.

“I think some people will love it, and some people will have things they don’t like about it,” Lindsey Balinkie, the project manager, said. “That’s why we’re having this meeting, is to get input and, um, hear where we’re getting it right and where it needs work.”

Residents were handed a packet of information on Transform 17 which included the guiding principles and maps of each plan as well as a response sheet with a section asking questions for each plan.

When the presentation ended, residents seized the opportunity to give feedback, but they were skeptical their input would be taken into consideration. Residents raised concerns about the feasibility of higher intensity plans, whether the plans prioritized profit over residents, and if residential areas would be rented or owned. Some wanted to support Downtown and the Main Street economy with higher intensity plans. More hesitant residents asked if taxpayers would pay for options like the 20-story apartment building, and who stands to make a profit.

“The options are interesting,” Oscar Mencinas, a longtime Mesa resident who lives across from the empty lot, said. “… But the fact that they seem to coincide strongly with, like, coincidentally the design that would be the most profitable, quote unquote, and most tourist friendly?”

Mencinas and other residents also questioned whether the plans take into consideration the history of the lot. “They were gonna do these amazing things with site 17. The city… enacted eminent domain, forced out a bunch of residents… leveled the houses, and it’s just been a vacant lot ever since,” he said. “I wonder how many people are aware of that history. ‘Cause, like, it matters!”

After the second community meeting, Crandall Arambula moves into Phase 3, the technical assessment, which will study the feasibility and community input of each plan and present it to Mesa city council.

By Student Contributor: Neinke Onneweer

About Author

Nienke Onneweer is the Managing Editor and Copy Editor for the Mesa Legend. She joined in August 2019 and has been publishing articles since January 2019. She has been writing since childhood, and her favorite punctuation is the em dash. Find her on Twitter @thenienke.