By Sammie Ann Wicks
“In the past, it seems like most businesses that are proposed have been put through without a lot of consideration by the DRC,” Matt Smith recalls. “This time, it was different.”
Smith added community wide opposition to the Valvoline proposal inspired greater numbers of residents to get involved.
“There was a number of people there who were regulars, but we were really encouraged to see 20-30 people show up who were new to all this,” Smith noted, “and that’s going give momentum to the community voice as we move forward.”
The organizer added not everyone at the meeting was happy with the Development Review Commission’s decision.
“I don’t think the land owner expected this—they kind of lost their composure,” Smith went on to say. “But they should realize we in the community are not opposed to development–we just want the kind that fits the character and values of the community. And another oil lube place doesn’t do that.”
Joining Smith were many other Tempe residents, some of whom hadn’t participated in community affairs before, among them new resident Susan Sheldon.
“We just bought a house, and have been in it for about a year,” Sheldon noted, saying being at the September meeting showed her the city “is moving in the right direction.”
“I signed the petition when I heard about this,” Sheldon said. “Then I kept telling everybody, ‘You need to be at this meeting,’ letting them know how important it was.” Sheldon said the mood at the meeting among neighbors was upbeat. She said she talked to many neighbors who thought the Valvoline depot was a redundant type of application.
“At the meeting we were saying that there are numerous other oil change places nearby, some just a mile away, so why do we need another one?” Sheldon said.
Problems with the project were plentiful in the mind of resident Salma O’Brien, who attended the meeting to express her opposition to it.
“We don’t want some big, shiny corporate thing in our neighborhood,” O’Brien asserted, noting that she saw very few supporters of the oil depot at the meeting.
“Not one person there spoke up for that project,” O’Brien stated, “and for good reason. We want locally oriented businesses here. Even when that location was a Shell station it was run by a local family, and we trusted them. With this, not so much.”
“How can the developer claim he improved this property,” she asserted, “when all he seems to have done is cut down all the trees, and torn down a characterful old building? They don’t get it–we want more, not less, green space.”
“The city should care. We’re not just these community folk. We’re absolutely taxpayers, and if this (DRC) decision gets appealed, you’re going to see us at the [city] council meeting.”
“We want to create an ambience, to promote an attractive character to this whole corridor–to say, ‘This is what we’re like in 85284,'” one attendee said. “We want visionaries, entrepreneurs who’ll create major anchors that will support and empower smaller neighboring mom-and-pop type enterprises to exist and thrive.”
One city council representative who monitored the results of the DRC session said she was encouraged by the residents’ strong showing.
“I was thrilled by the fact that we had as much community feedback as we got,” said Jennifer Adams, elected last year to Tempe City Council. The councilwoman noted that, should the McClintock project’s developer appeal the DRC’s decision, the matter will go before Tempe City Council, and will be subject to a more judicial type review.
“The people getting involved in the commission’s decision-making process is a very good sign, and is something I ran on–something I’m thrilled about,” she said.
Neighbors from every walk of life who came to the meeting inspired Amanda Stewart Sprowls, president of Circle G Ranch Association.
“Some people who showed up at the meeting have been living here since this area was even developed, while young newcomers with families who were drawn here by our unique ambience, and others from a broad spectrum of demographics, sat right next to them,” Sprowls declared, “all putting in their two cents–and all of us were committed to same idea, preserving the unique character of this place, even while fully supporting any business that wants to contribute to that.”
Diversity of the meeting’s community participants pulling in the same direction also gained the admiration of resident Jill Strandquist.
“We had hipsters there sitting next to young people, people from all backgrounds,” Strandquist said. “And what was even better, when a young person got up to speak, the older crowd really encouraged them, and then the younger people turned that back around and told THEM, ‘You can speak, too, you get up and speak, too.’ It was a grand sense of community.”
Strandquist said residents now want more attention given by the city to “what the community itself really wants.”
“We’re already stuck with the chicken joint (referring to the Raising Cane’s national franchise nearby, previously approved by the city),” Strandquist said. “So from here on out we’re going to take an active role as a community to make sure things we don’t want here aren’t foisted on us.”
“We want a live-work-play city. Walkable. Mixed use. Eclectic. Interesting. A place that will retain those vibrant young people coming here for an education. We can only wonder: City of Tempe, are you listening?”