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Hill Street School renovation to move ahead

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A developer’s request to rezone the property around a former school in Globe - the first step in their proposed renovation of the historic building - got off to a bumpy start, facing opposition from some community members over parking, traffic safety, crime and property value concerns, and a City Planning & Zoning Commission vote against recommending the request. Their road got smoother, however, when the issue went before City Council last week.

During their February 8 meeting, voting as one, the council granted Gorman & Company’s rezoning request, which sought to apply a Planned Area Development (PAD) Overlay Zoning District to the Hill Street School property. The Wisconsin-based firm proposes to rehabilitate the school and add a second three-story building to create an affordable senior housing complex; a project council members saw as a chance to add needed housing while restoring a historic structure that has been vacant for 16 years.

“We cannot continue to allow this building to deteriorate,” said Globe Economic and Community Development Director Linda  Oddonetto, adding that the city needs “housing units across all market segments.”

Dan Klocke, senior project development manager with Gorman & Company, said their plan had been revised to meet some of the public’s concerns. “We’ve been able to look at this a little more carefully,” he said. Originally envisioning 70 units, including one- and two-bedroom apartments, Gorman lowered that to 64 by eliminating the two-bedroom units. Twenty-six of the proposed apartments will be in the Hill Street School, with 38 in the new building. Along with this, the PAD proposes no onsite parking requirements and reduces the minimum front and streetside building setbacks. Gorman also proposes to add a sidewalk and perpendicular parking spaces along Devereaux Street, east of the school, and a green space in front highlighting the school’s history.

“This is really exciting for us,” said Klocke, who recounted a radio appearance with one caller who attended Hill Street School in 1948. “We envision this as a beacon on the south side of downtown.” He said the school’s gym might offer opportunities for community activities.

Gorman’s Arizona market president, Sally Schwenn, said that affordable housing generally means rent of no more than 30% of a tenant’s income, at least 80% of the units will be set aside for seniors and Gorman will handle all leasing, management and maintenance. Low income housing tax credits, which Schwenn explained were different from subsidized housing, will be the project’s primary funding source. The program, she said, will require Gorman to manage the complex for at least 15 years, though that could extend to 30 years.

“What is the greater good?” asked Councilman Freddy Rios. “We have been working to promote growth, and we have a golden opportunity to do that at this point.” Rios added that “it all lines up.”

“If we can do a project like this and bring this building back, we’ll have a jewel,” said Councilman Mike Pastor.

The meeting also included a third public hearing, this one with fewer community members speaking against the rezoning request. Concerns by project opponents included traffic safety, particularly with Globe High School adjacent to the site; whether Devereaux Street was wide enough to accommodate both new parking spaces and traffic flow; and safely evacuating the complex, with its planned single elevator, during a fire or other emergency. Responding to the latter concern, Mayor (and onetime Globe Fire Chief) Al Gameros said stairways were the safer way to evacuate a building.

“I don’t think these are things we can’t work through,” said one project supporter, Globe resident Tommy Manfredi, during the hearing. “I think if we can bring new life to the school, it’s a plus for everybody.” It was a feeling shared by council members and city staff; acknowledging that traffic, parking and other issues were genuine concerns, but not seeing them as insurmountable. Addressing concerns over possible increases in crime from the project, Police Chief Dale Walters said the new housing would be more of a positive than a negative with respect to criminal activity.

“There is time that we can work these things out. This isn’t going to happen tomorrow,” said Gameros. “This is an $18-20 million project; we’re never going to see it again. Nobody is going to come in here with that type of money and develop that building. We have had many try, but they have never come back to the table with that type of money.”

Rios made the motion to approve, and was seconded by Councilman Jesse Leetham. The motion passed unanimously, and Gorman & Company will be back before the council with a site plan at a future meeting.

In other business, the council:

* Approved a $10,533 funds transfer to acquire bola wraps for the Globe Police Department. Walters said the wraps were “another less lethal device for combating violent offenders.” The money will be moved from the city’s General Fund to the Police Department-Ammo and Equipment account, and the League of Cities has offered a grant to reimburse half of the cost.

* Directed staff to use one of three proposed redistricting maps as the city prepares for redistricting in the 2024 elections; the chosen map, Map 103, will be posted on the city website and brought back for the council’s Feb. 22 meeting.

* Approved the call of election for the Aug. 2 primary and Nov. 8 general elections, and set candidate nomination and voter registration deadlines. Candidates can file nomination papers with the City Clerk from March 5 through April 4, and the voter registration deadline will be July 5.

* Directed staff to proceed with an Invitation for Bids advertisement for the replacement of the Upper Pinal Creek Bridge, also known as Connie’s Bridge.