Medical school in Mesa expected a hospital would be built next door. Why it doesn't like the new plan
The Mesa City Council could rezone nearly 50 acres of land that was once set aside for a hospital and medical offices to make room for light industrial development later this month.
The council was set to vote on the rezoning and development agreement on Jan. 9, but at the request of the applicant the vote was moved to Jan. 23.
VHS Acquisition, the parent company for Abrazo Health, owns the land and is working with developer Hines to develop what they call Baseline Business Park.
The plan for the industrial development, along Higley Road and Inverness Avenue, has received pushback from the medical school A.T. Still University, which sits adjacent to the vacant land. The university was expecting a much different neighbor than what could come now.
Conceptual site plans from 2007 show the area was meant for an Abrazo Hospital. The land was rezoned in 2007 to make room for a 428-bed Abrazo hospital along with doctors' offices and a hotel.
Banner Health solidified its presence in the East Valley when it opened Banner Gateway Medical Center across the street in Gilbert that same year. The health care company also owns multiple parcels of undeveloped land west and east of the hospital.
But now developers are moving away from their original plans after 16 years without significant interest in the property.
Site plans for Baseline Business Park submitted to the city show designs for eight buildings that could each be as big as a local grocery store.
Medical university opposes rezoning
A legal representative from A.T. Still University submitted multiple letters of disapproval to the planning department on the rezoning case, citing issues with the city’s general plan — a voter-approved document that guides city growth — and traffic issues.
A.T. Still University has two schools at its Mesa location for programs ranging from dental to osteopathic medicine. Nearly 1,400 students are enrolled at the Arizona university, according to its 2022 enrollment data.
Joel Sannes, a legal representative for the medical school, said during an October planning and zoning board meeting that approval of the rezoning would “threaten A.T. Still’s viability in this location." Sannes raised concerns over the number of docking bays and how traffic could affect access to the school.
The rezoning would walk back Mesa’s commitment to A.T. Still to create a medical campus synergy, he said at the October meeting.
The school also took issue with delivery trucks driving east of the university and sharing the road with students as they come and go to the university. Sannes also said the buildings don't fit the aesthetics of the area.
Sean Lake, the legal representative for the project, told The Arizona Republic that developers have worked to address the concerns brought up by A.T. Still University, including increasing the distance between the buildings and the university’s campus.
Councilmember Julie Spilsbury, who represents the area, said she values the city's partnership with the university. She's hopeful developers and the school will be able to find a middle ground.
The city also included a requirement in the rezoning ordinance that any trucking traffic would need to travel west of the campus.
Here’s what is coming
Following years without movement on the land, the property owners see these plans as the best use for it. Lake said Banner Gateway Medical Center sucked the energy for a hospital and medical offices across the street.
The hopes are to attract medical-related business to stick with the medical character of the area. He said at the October planning and zoning meeting the rezone would allow manufacturing and the production of medical equipment.
Mesa is set to approve a development agreement at its Jan. 23 council meeting with the owners to prohibit various types of business to better keep a specialty medical campus character. Full details of what is in the agreement are under negotiations between the city and the developers.
The staff report shows those prohibited uses could include boat and recreational vehicle storage, mini-storage, car service or sales lots and other uses. Also, indoor warehousing and storage and wholesale buildings would be limited to less than 49% of the 50-acre site.
Lake told The Republic the development agreement wouldn't include any city incentives.
Mesa staff told the City Council it wasn’t aware of any tenants for the site.
Reporter Maritza Dominguez covers the southwest Valley. She can be reached at email@example.com or 480-271-0646. Follow her on Twitter @maritzacdom.