Phoenix high-rise development planned near Steele Indian School Park clears 1st hurdle

Corina Vanek
Arizona Republic
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A high-rise development planned for 18 acres next to Steele Indian School Park cleared a major hurdle Thursday night, gaining a recommendation of approval from the Phoenix Planning Commission despite vocal neighborhood concerns.

The project, called Central Park, is proposed for a vacant site at Indian School Road and Central Avenue.

An outdated plan for Central Park was approved in 2019 by the Phoenix City Council, but the office-centric development is no longer a feasible option, said Benjamin Tate, an attorney who is representing Central Park’s developer, Pivotal Group.

"The pandemic changed the prospects of this version of the project essentially overnight," Tate said at the Planning Commission meeting.

Central Park project shifts more to residential

The project now has a more residential focus, with 1,450 residential units, including for-rent and for-sale options, planned.

In total, the proposed project includes:

  • A 21-story apartment tower.
  • Two eight-story apartment towers.
  • An 18-story office tower.
  • A grocery store.
  • A 21-story condominium tower.
  • A 320-unit senior living complex.
  • 78,000 square feet total of restaurants and retail space.
  • A public open-space plaza.
  • 1,450 total residential units.

Neighbors concerned about walkability, new design

Several residents voiced concerns about the project at Thursday’s meeting, from the lack of retail frontage on the main thoroughfares and unclear planning on how pedestrians will access Steele Indian School Park from the Central Park project.

Most of the proposed retail space, except the grocery store, is on the interior of the site, not bordering Central Avenue or Indian School Road. Neighbors who spoke at the meeting said they did not like the orientation of the retail because people exiting the light rail, which has a stop outside the proposed development, would be met with the sides of parking garages, not inviting shops or restaurants.

Residents also took issue with a change to the pedestrian walkway that had been proposed in 2019 and said the new design and orientation of the buildings makes the project less walkable.

The city’s planning hearing officer had previously recommended approval of the project, but a resident appealed the recommendation to the Planning Commission.

Ken Waters, the resident who appealed the decision, said he believes Pivotal Group is a good developer, but he would like to see collaboration with the city and other nearby developments.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get this right,” Waters said at the meeting, adding he thought Pivotal Group could be very successful in the development if it involved all stakeholders in the planning, especially the city’s Parks Department and Parks and Recreation Board.

At the meeting, Tate said the development team has been in contact with the Parks Department but determining access to the park from the project would come once the plans for Central Park receive the necessary approvals.

Two neighbors of the project also spoke in favor of it, saying the plan could be one of the best new developments along that area of Central.

Commission recommends approval

Commissioner Lisa Perez said she understood the neighbors’ frustration with the process but said she was in favor of the changes to the project.

“This is a very dynamic project,” she said. “It is calling for the density, and it fits on that corner, on that intersection.”

Other commissioners also voiced their support, noting that the market would provide options for grocery shopping for residents of the Central Park development, neighbors and people who use the light rail.

The commission serves as an advisory body to the Phoenix City Council on various development issues. It can make recommendations to the council, but that does not guarantee the council will agree.

The Planning Commission voted 5-0 in favor of recommending approval of the project to the City Council. The council still needs to give its approval to the revamped project before it can be built.

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