Urban growing pains

Grace Community Church’s proposal to place low-income housing on property where its popular thrift store stands on Apache Boulevard has elicited unrest from neighboring residents.

Gracie’s Village, which is designed to house 75 units on two acres, exceeds building limitations for its current, commercial zoning designation. The housing contains 25 units too many.

The specifications come from the City of Tempe’s 2030 General Plan. It also exceeds a 40-foot height restriction by 18 feet.

Grace and Groman & Company, the developer, are asking the City Council to rezone the lot for mixed use.

According to The State Press’ coverage of the opposition, Tempe residents are concerned with the quality of life of the Village’s potential residents and not just about their privacy or the appearance of the proposed building.

Pointing out the need for ample recreational and green space for the potential residents and their children reflects a growing local awareness of the importance of urban design, the integration of human interactions and both the various environments within the context of a city’s layout.

Developers are thus facing an increasingly complex demand for plans that are affordable, sustainable, appropriate, attractive and connective.

For urban design to make a local impact, projects like Gracie’s that work with the light rail should be embraced, despite this project’s arguably out-of-scale, stark contrast to the surrounding, sprawling suburbs — the classic Arizona plan.

The boxy style and height of the proposed building may not make the most attractive façade for neighboring residents, but The State Press reported that Grace is willing to compromise on the Village’s appearance.

The current style symbolizes the Valley’s transition from its suburban past into a more urban, public transportation-oriented city.

According to the East Valley Tribune, the housing aims to be LEED Gold-certified for sustainable construction and to maintain a more sophisticated look for residents who might not be able to afford it otherwise, all while connecting them to the light rail.

“Tempe’s vision in the year 2030 is livability — a community of vital neighborhoods (that are) visually attractive, transit-sensitive, with resident participation in making crucial decisions about the future,” the City of Tempe’s 2030 General Plan, which was drafted in 2003, states.

The Apache Boulevard light rail corridor has been an experiment in urban design for Tempe, not only with the rail system, but also with the Grigio Metro apartments on McClintock Drive and Apache Boulevard.

Gracie’s Village is another opportunity for the city to see how building up, as well as building mixing urban with suburban, will benefit the city.

As with all experiments, making Tempe a more urban place to live will require some patience as planners, developers, residents and other stakeholders find the right balances.

Reach the columnist at jlgunthe@asu.edu

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