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Council OKs Willow Creek apartments: 160-unit complex approved despite traffic, density fears

City of Prescott/Courtesy map<br>The map above shows the location of a proposed 160-unit apartment complex along Willow Creek Road near Montana Drive.

City of Prescott/Courtesy map<br>The map above shows the location of a proposed 160-unit apartment complex along Willow Creek Road near Montana Drive.

A project that will bring 160 new apartments and will put as many as 130 additional vehicles into the morning and afternoon rush-hour mix on Willow Creek Road got the OK of the Prescott City Council this week.

At their Tuesday voting session, council members approved the site plan and Planned Area Development (PAD) designation, as well as the water service agreement, for Willow Creek Apartments at 3149 Willow Creek Road.

The complex, which will be located between the College Heights/Crossings and Montaña Drive intersections on Willow Creek Road, will have a single un-signalized entrance.

That raised concerns from council members, who worried that the additional traffic into and out of the apartment complex would exacerbate the already busy stretch of Willow Creek Road.

"There's a lot of cars going down that road," Councilman Greg Lazzell. "I'd like some assurance ...that it is going to be a safe entry and exit point."

City Traffic Engineer Ian Mattingly agreed that the stretch of Willow Creek Road carries a substantial amount of traffic. "It is in the low 20,000s (vehicles per day) in front of that location," Mattingly said.

Because city staff members also originally had concerns about the traffic impacts, Mattingly said they asked for an evaluation by a traffic-engineering firm, which estimated that the apartments would add about 60 vehicles to the morning rush-hour traffic, and about 70 in the afternoon.

"You're not talking about an excessively high number," Mattingly said. If access to the apartments does become a problem, he said the city could change the timing of the traffic signals at Montaña and College Heights "to generate some gaps."

In addition to questions about the traffic, concerns also arose about the proposed building density of 160 units on five acres.

Noting that the city's PAD designation was intended to allow for creative plans involving more open space in exchange for clustering more densely spaced housing, City Councilwoman Jean Wilcox maintained that the apartment complex was instead "packing as many units as possible" on the land.

A memo for the city stated that 26 percent of the land would be open space, but that the developers would disperse it as landscaped buffers rather than as the usual larger open space tracts.

"I don't think it meets the intent of the PAD," Wilcox said.

Tim Emberlin, the project manager for developer Parlay LLC, responded that the added density was an effort by the developer to maximize the investment. "In any apartment project, the more units per acre (the better) it pencils," he said.

Even so, Emberlin said the developer would work to make the complex attractive. "We don't want this to look like an eyesore at all," he told the council.

Although he did not disclose the projected rental amounts, Emberlin said, "I think the market will keep the rents down."

The complex will include a variety of one-bedroom, two-bedroom, junior one-bedroom, and studio apartments, Emberlin said.

Under the existing high-density multi-family zoning (without the PAD), the developers would have been allowed 153 units.

"Effectively, it looks to me like it is about one more unit per acre," Councilman Jim Lamerson said of the additional units allowed under the PAD. "That is relatively proportionately insignificant."

Last week, Emberlin said that if all goes as planned, construction could get under way on the site by July or August.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks.