FLORENCE — There are several signs of renewed interest in downtown, town Planner Larry Harmer told the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Several previously vacant lots in residential areas have new homes or homes are under construction, and several more are in design, Harmer told the commission on Sept. 3. Sunrise Estates south of Butte Avenue has 89 vacant lots platted 15 years ago. A builder is currently in escrow to buy those lots and is amending the final plat to 83 lots to leave room for drainage retention.

Harmer continued that the town is negotiating a development agreement with MODUS Holdings Inc. for a community of 112 residential rentals north of Heritage Park. He said there’s also a lot of new interest in Main Street.

“We’re working as best we can with those folks. … Once they actually purchase the property and file permit requests, for business licenses or whatever, it becomes public information. Until then, we have nothing firm as far as naming names.”

Harmer also said the town is in the process of hiring an economic development director. He said there was an initial review of applicants a couple of weeks ago, advertising for the position continues and a second review is coming up soon. Judging from recent Town Council comments, the successful candidate will be making downtown a priority, Harmer said.

Harmer’s report was in response to Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Gary Pranzo’s comment at the panel’s previous meeting that development north of the Gila River isn’t helping the downtown area. Pranzo asked for ideas about how to bring downtown along with the prosperity happening on the other end of town.

Pranzo said Sept. 3 that he’s happy to hear there’s some turnaround, and whatever’s causing this interest — perhaps news of a future Grinder sports complex, he said — “I hope it continues. But I don’t want us to take our eye off the ball. … I hope we can continue to move forward with redevelopment south of the Gila.”

The commission held a second public hearing Sept. 3 on a new land use category for the future Grinder complex. At the conclusion of the hearing, the commission recommended in favor of establishing a “Sports Oriented Mixed-Use” land category for the town’s 2020 General Plan and assigning this land use to a Major General Plan Amendment application submitted by Grinder Sports Group Inc. for approximately 360 acres on North Felix Road.

Pranzo told those listening to the online meeting that the current action only proposes to create a new land use category and is “not a discussion of the viability or business model of Grinder.”

During the public hearing, a Magma Ranch resident told the commission she wants to be annexed into Florence and be served by a new water system if the Grinder complex is built. She asked a town representative to come to a homeowners association meeting to discuss annexation.

Another resident, Tiffany Simmons of Magma Ranch Vistas, asked for details of the approval process for the Grinder complex.

Harmer said after the commission’s two public hearings, the Town Council will hold a hearing on Oct. 5 and may or may not act that night. If the amendment is approved, Grinder can begin filing for annexation and zoning.

Harmer said the Major General Plan Amendment itself doesn’t give Grinder any entitlement. The annexation, development agreement and rezoning are all still to come. The land Grinder hopes to develop is currently farmland designated for low- and medium-density residential and community commercial.

Grinder’s proposal consists of a sports complex north of the existing Magma Ranch community and a smaller parcel south of Magma Ranch. A Sun Valley Farms resident asked how the smaller parcel relates to the larger one.

Lyndon Estill, chief operations officer of Grinder, said the smaller southern parcel would be “supportive infrastructure” such as restaurants and entertainment. He said the entire project is meant to provide community support, “bringing missing amenities and commercial opportunities residents don’t currently have, and are traveling long distances to enjoy.”


Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.