Controversial Apartment Project Pulled From City Council Agenda

This week’s Mesquite City Council meeting may be as interesting for what is NOT on the agenda as for what is. Last week, the developer proposing to build a 352-unit apartment complex on 14 acres in Mesquite pulled his application from consideration at this week’s meeting.

The news was a welcome relief to many neighbors and concerned citizens who attended a City Council Meeting on Tuesday, July 27, where the project was proposed. Many opposed the zonine request for the parcel at 520 W. Pioneer Blvd. which would have increased the density of residential development from the current 10 units per acre to the proposed 25 units per acre.

The public comments, emails, and petitions from these neighbors were effective in getting the attention of city council members at the July meeting. The developer, Joseph Markowitz announced near the end of the meeting that if the zoning request was not approved as submitted, the property would not be purchased and the project would not go forward at that location.

True to his word, the application for rezoning was withdrawn last week and the property was left without a purchase agreement. The developer is reportedly looking for other property in town.

An item proposed for the August 24 City Council agenda, to discuss a compromise for a lesser-density zoning on the parcel, was pulled from the agenda last week.

While this change was considered a victory for citizens who already have a place to call home, many did not view it as a victory for the City of Mesquite; or for the growing number of the city’s working class who cannot afford homes.

Community leaders who are seeking opportunities to supply workforce housing to feed that demand in Mesquite are finding themselves with fewer and fewer options.

City Council member Brian Wursten, who was one of two that voted in favor of the rezoning in July, pointed out that the Pioneer St. property would have been the perfect place for such a development.

“This parcel has the Interstate on one side, Pioneer Road businesses on the other side, and two churches right next to it,” Wursten said in an interview with The Progress. “It just seemed to me to be well-suited for this type of project.”

“I hope that the developer will find another place to build in Mesquite,” Wursten added. “It is a good plan for something that we desperately need. The biggest issue—the number one priority in our city without question right now – is more workforce housing.”

Some equate the term “workforce housing” with “affordable housing.” But they are not the same type of housing product. According to the Urban Land Institute (ULI), “Workforce Housing is defined as housing affordable to households earning between 60 and 120 percent of area median income (AMI).

Workforce housing, like that proposed by this project, is a market-rate housing product aimed at middle-income workers who may not be able to afford a single-family home. These middle income jobs are the types of jobs that keep any community going and growing, which are difficult to fill without places for workers and their families to live.

“Affordable housing” on the other hand, refers to housing products aimed at extremely low income families with annual incomes below 30 percent of the area median income. These units usually include a government subsidy to make the housing possible for these low income families to afford.

While some citizens in the neighborhood voiced their desire to keep Mesquite a quiet retirement community—the reason many moved here—others accept the fact that Mesquite is going to grow. But even these didn’t feel this particular parcel should be rezoned in this way.

The main concerns raised were the increase in traffic that the project may bring; and the excessive density increase being proposed for the parcel.

City officials are now asking residents for suggestions on how to solve the bigger problem of a lack of workforce housing in the community.

Thomas Stark, a concerned citizen who stood in opposition to the rezoning had a suggestion. “I believe there should be more housing provided in the center of town near shopping and schools,” Stark said. “I would like to see a revitalization of businesses with apartments built above the commercial spaces. That is a trend we have seen across the country, particularly in areas where land shortages exist.”

Other residents living near the parcel reiterated the idea of looking at the vast amounts of vacant land north of Pioneer Boulevard and expanding the transportation system to serve future residents in those areas.

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