Agreement with Phoenix balances Luke protection, Surprise Center development

The Surprise and Phoenix City Councils have agreed on a landmark intergovernmental agreement (IGA) which “strikes a balance between protecting Luke Air Force Base and encouraging the development of our future downtown, Surprise Center,” said Surprise Mayor Sharon Wolcott.

The agreement will transfer from Phoenix to Surprise the authority to lift development restrictions on more than 500 acres around the City Hall campus, a square mile bounded by Greenway and Bell roads, Litchfield Road and Bullard Avenue known as Surprise Center. The area is planned as the future downtown core of Surprise.

“I want to thank Mayor Greg Stanton and the Phoenix City Council for supporting this agreement,” Wolcott said after the Phoenix City Council approved the IGA Wednesday afternoon. “Today we see the importance of strong relationships in making important change happen in our community. Now, we can begin making a downtown Surprise reality.”

Wolcott said the agreement will allow development proposals that align with a true downtown vision, such as hotels and apartments or condos and that associated venues, such as dining and entertainment will find Surprise Center a good fit.

The restrictions date to 1999 when Phoenix owned the property, then an unused Luke Air Force Base emergency airfield known as Aux 3.  That year, a land exchange and settlement agreement transferred ownership to Surprise and a private company, the Surprise Center Development Corporation (SCDC).  In order to protect Luke Air Force Base, whose planes overfly the property, the agreement prohibited venues offering overnight stays, such as hotels, hospitals or apartments, a restriction Phoenix has enforced.

In December of 2012, Luke officials expressed understanding of Surprise’s interest in moving forward with talks to lift the restrictions.

The agreement gives Surprise authority to release restrictions and commits Surprise to collect and remit to Phoenix $30,000 for each acre of land released, the agreed-upon amount each acre increases in value with restrictions lifted.

The agreement assures that Phoenix is compensated for the value created when restrictions are lifted, Wolcott said.

Surprise and Phoenix also agree that Surprise will work to acquire releases and easements permitting the Air Force to operate unimpeded in the skies above the property forever, and removing the Air Force from liability for any damages related to over flight, except damage caused by a falling plane or dropped objects. “That is our rock solid guarantee that these skies will always welcome our Air Force friends, who are such an important part of our community,” Wolcott added.

The agreement also allows Surprise to secure easements or pay for an initial release of acreage by the city of Phoenix.

Ownership of the land is divided among Surprise and private owners, mainly Surprise Center Development Corporation (SCDC). City-owned land at Surprise Center is almost completely developed, occupied by Surprise City Hall, the Public Safety Building, Municipal and Superior Courts, a regional library, Town Lake, the Racquet and Tennis Center and other recreational facilities

Another provision states that a property owner seeking to have restrictions lifted on Surprise Center property can convey land to Phoenix adjacent to Luke or in the crash zone north of the base, and if Phoenix accepts the land, the owner will be excused from paying the per-acre fee at Surprise Center. Improving the buffer around Luke is a “priority” for Phoenix, according to the agreement.

The Surprise City Council approved the IGA unanimously in a special meeting Tuesday night.

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