The Epicenter at Agritopia, a mixed-use development, was announced in 2013, has yet to break ground due to building changes, setbacks, and oppositions from the public.
Amy Temes, a senior planner for the town of Gilbert, said, ” They have not broken ground yet because Joe Johnston has changed partners with the builders who will be building the apartments.”
The name of the new partners has not been released to the public, so Temes could not provide any more information. Before the change in partners, the project had been projected to be finished in 2019. Family Business Manager William Johnston said that the company is working with the new builders to make this a well-known and diverse addition to the community, adding, “Hopefully, we will begin construction at the end of this year, early next year.”
As Johnston Properties was developing the epicenter construction costs got to be expensive, Johnston added, “The company stepped back and reevaluated our goals for the project, we decided we had to continue no matter what.”
In the beginning stages of the proposal, residents of the area had concerns, according to the Gilbert planning commission meetings. Included in a Gilbert planning staff report were emails from the public stating objections to the proposed zoning changes, notably the addition of rental apartments.
One of the attractions to the community is that owners occupy all living areas and no renting is allowed. Agritopia’s residents fear that the rentals will “change the dynamic” of the community. Temes stated that the HOA of Agritopia requires this to ensure properties are taken care of, so property values stay high. According to Johnston, since the epicenter is not strictly residential and the apartments are luxury it should help keep property values high.
Other comments of concern from the public included crime, noise and increased traffic. Temes noted that the town worked with the developers to ensure that traffic is cohesive, and that parking is separated for apartment residents and the public, adding, “There tends to be less traffic with multi-family, mixed-use areas than strictly commercial buildings.” Gilbert also cannot control whether living space can be rented. According to Temes the issue, of residents being unhappy with apartments for rent was “not for the town to deal with.”
The concept behind the epicenter is to create a modern village atmosphere, that will have multiple benefits to the community, Johnston said. Gilbert contracted with Applied Economics to study the impact of the epicenter. The firm found that the project could result in an annual economic impact of $18.5 million, bring over 200 jobs to the area and generate $7.9 million in annual personal income in Gilbert. The buildings will include 287 luxury multi-family apartments above 55,300 square feet of commercial space.
In 2017 the epicenter team announced that OBON Sushi, Gadzooks, BIRD Modern Provisions & Bar, The Rice Shop, Vintage Home, Cycle Ave, and Yoga Center would be some of the tenants occupying the first floor. “One of the things we are trying to do is bring the best of Arizona,” Johnston said. He also reassured the public that the farm in Agritopia will always remain part of the community.