Miami zoning change leads way for Inspiration School housing project to begin

Miami resident Bunney Kessler asks the Miami Town Council at its March 25 regular meeting to let the Phoenix-based Butler Housing Company, Inc. try for its proposed development project for the historic Miami/Inspiration Addition School. Photo by Carol Broeder.

At its March 25 meeting, the Miami Town Council unanimously approved a zoning change necessary for a proposed development project for the historic Miami/Inspiration Addition School.

Bolstered by the approval, Phoenix-based Butler Housing Company, Inc. is moving forward with its plan to apply April 1 for about $10 million in project funding through the Arizona Department of Housing.

President/Owner Reid Butler said his company would probably not be the only applicant, as about 30 projects usually apply.

While it seemed previously that Miami Town Manager Joe Heatherly supported the project, he would not offer the council his recommendation to approve the required zoning change.

Instead, Heatherly recommended that the agenda item be continued to the next council meeting.

Citing project complexity, Heatherly said, “I don’t have a written recommendation tonight.”

Heatherly’s announcement seemed to come as a shock to those at the meeting who had been working on the project, including Butler, son Josh Schripsema, Miami Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Sherry Dorathy and Junior/Senior High School Principal Glen Lineberry.

Butler explained to the council that, due to the April 1 application deadline, pushing the zoning change to the next meeting would postpone the project for six months.

“We are here tonight to ask for your support for the zoning that is customized for this project,” Butler said.

Miami Councilman Mike Black, who lead much of the council’s discussion, asked who would live in the apartments Butler planned to construct, giving the example of teachers.

Butler agreed, also listing others such as service workers and first responders.

Calling it “family housing,” Butler explained that they have to have a household income of “$20,000 to $30,000 to $40,000 to live there,” he said. “You have to be a worker to live there.  You have to have an income.”

Apartment residents would tend to be “people already in your community,” Butler said.

Councilman Dan Moat asked how many people might live in the proposed apartment building, Butler replied, “There can be 100 people here or there can be as many as 120 people here.”

Leading much of the discussion from the staff perspective, Town Attorney Susan Goodwin said that, with council approval, the current zoning of the property at 912 W. Rose Rd. would change from a “Multiple-Family Residential District Zoning” to “Planned Area Development Overlay Zoning District,” with the underlying zoning of “Multiple-Family Residential District Zoning.”

Goodwin also pointed out that “there is nothing to prevent them from tearing that building down,” adding that she was not aware of any commitment the builder had made to the school district about not demolishing it.

“These are the kind of projects that we do: That’s why we’re here. We’re not here to tear down the Inspiration School,” said Butler, describing his company as “very open” to putting that in writing.

Addressing the April 1 funding deadline, Mayor Darryl Dalley said the council could hold a special meeting later in the week, but that it would be up to council.

Vice-Mayor Sammy Gonzales asked Heatherly, “Where are you coming from on this?”

Heatherly replied, “You could hold a special meeting on Wednesday or Thursday or vote on your own tonight.”

Goodwin said that she and Heatherly are always out to protect the Town of Miami.

“There are those who have expressed concerns about it being used for low-income housing,” Goodwin said. “My advice is to make this decision based on land use, not whether or not it is low-income housing.”

Black, who pointed out that he had raised the low-income question to begin with, said, “This project will be bringing in more people and more revenue. We have to grow. It’s hard to do in a town where you have boundaries and are cut off.”

Miami resident Michael 23 addressed council, saying that he met Butler about 15 years ago in connection with his Roosevelt Commons project.

“Reid had a project in Phoenix near out art space,” 23 said, adding that Butler’s proposed project in Miami would “bring the Inspiration School back.”

23 said he and his wife own a house in the neighborhood where they plan to retire.

Referring to a previous discussion of who would live in the apartments, 23 said “I can see artist housing in that space, as well.”

Photo by Carol Broeder

Miami resident Michael 23 speaks at the Miami Town Council’s March 25 regular meeting in favor of the development project for the historic Miami/Inspiration Addition School, proposed by the Phoenix-based Butler Housing Company, Inc. 23 was familiar with the company’swork in downtown Phoenix.

Describing herself as the project’s “next door neighbor,” Bunney Kessler pointed out that Butler’s company is willing to take a risk with its $11 million investment in Miami, so the council should let them try.

“Until the town can improve the infrastructure, it’s a crapshoot,” said Kessler, adding that most who work in the area “live in the San Tan Valley, not here.”

“This is something that needs to happen,” Kessler said. “At least they’re trying. You have to have a starting point somewhere.”

After Dalley closed the public hearing and it came time for the council to vote, Black said, “We have to get something going.”

Referring to Butler’s earlier comment that his company would spend about $200,000 per unit, Black said, “There aren’t going to be any low incomes there.”

When Black started to make the motion to approve, Councilman Don Reiman asked Heatherly if the project was something he vehemently opposed.

Heatherly replied that while he is not, “I just don’t think we have enough information for you to make a good decision tonight.”

When Dalley asked Heatherly whether or not he would follow up, Heatherly replied, “Once you change the zoning, it’s done.”

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said.

Goodwin told the council that the agenda item “comes to you in a neutral recommendation.”

Prior to the unanimous vote, Dalley called it a “real risk” putting up an $11 million investment “to rehab these old buildings.”

“We already own seven or eight in Phoenix,” Butler said. “This kind of housing is recession-proof.”

Black reiterated, “We have to do something to improve Miami. We have to move forward.”

Goodwin then asked Butler what would happen if the funding application submitted April 1 was denied.

Butler replied that if his company did not win this time, “the school district will give us another chance in 2020.”

He told the Silver Belt that his company would hear back on the application on June 30. Calling it a “tight schedule,” Butler said that his company has been working on the project since last March and with the Town of Miami for the past two months.

“We have received so much support from the Town of Miami,” he said. “We couldn’t be doing this project without them.”

As to the March 25 meeting, Butler said his company was “really pleased” with the support from the community members, especially 23 and Kessler “who got up and said, ‘Let them try.’”

“We are the ones bringing change to Miami, and change isn’t always easy,” he said.

Lineberry told the Silver Belt they are grateful for the council’s unanimous support.

“If the funding comes through, we will be able to see a lovely old school repurposed in a way that benefits Miami families for decades to come,” he said.

Under the currently proposed schedule, the apartment building would be completed in June 2021, Butler said.

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