Tempe plans for density and height in downtown Tempe

The city of Tempe is undergoing a growth spurt.

According to the city's 30-year prospective development plan, General Plan 2040, the future holds several opportunities for major development, focusing on infill, densification and vertical growth. 

Several developments are in progress in downtown Tempe, especially on University Drive, Mill Avenue and on Rio Salado Parkway.

Tempe councilperson Kolby Granville said many of the developments will be multi-story and mixed-use buildings, with storefronts on the first level and apartments and offices on the upper levels.

Granville said much of downtown, between University Drive and Rio Salado Parkway, was supposed to consist of several multistory buildings, but those plans fizzled out when the economy crashed. 

But now, things are picking up again. 

"The whole area (of University Drive between Myrtle and College avenues) is slated to be tall buildings. I mean six or eight stories tall or taller," Granville said. "And that's probably appropriate for that area given what's been happening in the past 20 years. Everything north of University to Rio Salado is going to be dense and it's going to be high." 

Granville emphasized that the city began to plan for a "tall downtown," since the 1970s, and that it's part of a broader plan to allow for several different styles of living within the city. 

Some parts of Tempe better serve a suburban commuter lifestyle, but Granville said, "if you want to live in a high-rise apartment with musicians playing on the street until midnight every night, we have that too."

In order for developers to actually build in the city, they need to have a local liaison, usually in the form of a zoning lawyer. This is where zoning attorney Nicholas Wood comes into play, negotiating with the city on behalf of developers. 

"We're engaged to help developers shepherd zoning applications through the city," he said. 

Wood said there were a few reasons Tempe's a good place to develop — it's centrally located, there's excellent transportation throughout the city and the lake represents a great amenity. 

"Good leadership has a vision for how they want things to occur, and if they want that vision, they achieve it," Wood said. "The Community Development department and the city council are all doing an excellent job running and developing the city."

Wood reiterated Granville's expectations for the city's future. 

"I think you'll see more infill projects that are a combination of mixed use, office, retail and residential, with great architecture, good quality and great balance," he said. 

His expectations development so far hold true. According to the city's maps of planned area development and current development projects, the already dense downtown Tempe holds a lot of development potential looking ahead. Just some of the major projects of the city include Tempe Center for the Arts, the addition of the Marina Heights buildings off of Tempe Town Lake, a 240-foot-tall mixed-use building on University Drive east of Myrtle Avenue and more.

Dave Nakagawara, the director of community development in the city of Tempe, said he attributed the recent development boom to a localized economic climate. He said that he's seen significant growth despite a struggling state-wide economy.

"We are seeing a lot of growth because of our proximity to a lot of things — we're surrounded by freeways and are bisected by light-rail," he said. "Tempe is starting to establish itself as an address to be at, and the proximity to the university is also causing something of a cultural rebirth."

He said future planning in the city will prioritize diversity and self sufficiency, and that one of his major desires is to keep people living and working in the city, not just commuting in or out. 

Related Links:

Downtown Tempe launch yields mixed reactions

ASU needs Mill Avenue, not Downtown Tempe


Reach the reporter at Arren.Kimbel-Sannit@asu.edu or follow @akimbelsannit on Twitter.

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