The first residential project on land formerly occupied by the General Motors Desert Proving Ground is on the books in Mesa.
The Planning and Zoning Board has approved a preliminary plat for 796 single-family homes on the northwestern corner of Ray and Signal Butte roads. The site is about 2 miles south of a large First Solar Inc. panel-fabricating plant under construction.
Mesa has fought several battles in recent years to keep housing away from the nearby Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and from tracts in the area that are deemed more suitable for business.
But this parcel is 2 miles from the airport's eastern border and would be part of the 15,000 dwelling units envisioned in a plan for the DMB land that the City Council approved in 2008.
John Wesley, Mesa's planning director, said the housing tract does not require City Council scrutiny because no rezoning is involved.
Councilman Scott Somers, who represents southeast Mesa, said he visited DMB's Scottsdale headquarters on Monday and is encouraged by the company's plans.
"From what I see so far it looks pretty good," Somers said. "They have lived up to the Gateway area plan. They're looking for a different look."
The neighborhood will be lushly landscaped and will offer a break from the block walls that typify many Valley neighborhoods, he said.
Somers said high-quality housing is essential for the former GM property. "I'm looking for something more eclectic or that has a theme to it," he said, mentioning Phoenix's historical Willo district.
The DMB project narrative did not list a prospective developer for the site.
It notes that according to the community plan for DMB's Mesa proving-grounds development, the property "will form the basis of the social fabric of the community and will be designed as intimate neighborhoods that encourage walking and social interaction."
The document promises small neighborhood parks, narrow streets to encourage slower traffic and strong connections to other portions of the DMB property, including what has been called the Great Park in the center of the 5-square-mile development.
DMB and Mesa believe the GM site will develop in stages over the next few decades and has the potential for future high-rise business centers at, for example, the intersection of Ellsworth and Elliot roads.
DMB spokeswoman Cassidy Campana said the company is talking with several homebuilders about the newly approved tract but that no deals have been made and there is no timetable for construction.
"We're working real hard to be prepared for when the economy comes back," Campana said.
Somers said it will take a while to lay infrastructure, and the development might not be ready to launch until 2013.
The inaugural project for DMB's property was supposed to have been a ritzy Gaylord resort and conference center, another upscale resort, a championship golf course and high-end shopping about a mile east of the Ellsworth-Elliot intersection.
Groundbreaking for the Gaylord originally was scheduled for no later than this coming New Year's Eve. But within days of the project being announced in September 2008, the economy spun into recession, decimating the travel and convention industries.
Mesa granted Gaylord a three-year extension for its groundbreaking deadline. The Nashville-based company has told the city that its project here is still alive and will proceed when the economics pencil out.
Tempe-based First Solar Inc. jumped to the front of DMB's line in March when it announced plans for a 1.3million-square-foot solar-panel assembly plant. The plant is to open in 2012.
Wesley said Pacific Proving LLC, which bought the southern portion of the former GM facility, also has a couple of housing proposals, but they have not been brought to the Planning and Zoning Board.
By Gary Nelson The Arizona Republic Dec 10, 2011
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