Chandler growth riding on freeway
TRIBUNE  September 2, 2002

For 10 years, Amber McDonald and her brother romped in the green fields in front of their Chandler home.  Now, a sign of change stands in the old playgrounds — a small green board that marks the future path of the San Tan Freeway stretch of Loop 202.

"When we moved out here, we were out in the boonies.  It’s going to turn into a city," said McDonald, 18, who lives near Willis and McQueen roads.  "It’s bad, but it’s good, because that means we’re growing and we’re prospering."

Six lanes of concrete are planned to cross Chandler by 2005, bringing along a torrent of traffic and forever changing the serene countryside from McDonald’s home to other parts of the East Valley.  The extension of Loop 202 will spark enormous growth — 90,000 new residents and 80,000 new jobs over 20 years, city planners said.

"South Chandler is actually going to be a very dynamic, dramatic future development area," said Hank Pluster, Chandler’s long-range planning manager.

The freeway is planned to be built from Chandler through Gilbert and up to Mesa to the Red Mountain Freeway stretch of Loop 202 by 2007, said Matt Burdick, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation.

The freeway will transform rural areas of Mesa and Gilbert as well.  Those communities plan for Loop 202 to spur development around Williams Gateway Airport and help that area become a major source of jobs.

The San Tan Freeway could help Chandler’s municipal airport become one of the biggest employment centers in the state, planners said.

Dusty land surrounds the airport now, but the freeway will provide a channel for traffic to feed into the nine square miles known as the Chandler Airpark.  The airpark is expected to flourish with industry and business that will generate as many as 68,000 jobs, Pluster said.

Kevin Petersen, a broker with Vistoso Partners, said his company owns much of the land around the airport and expects to develop it soon.

"The freeway’s like an umbilical cord.  That’s your lifeblood to here," he said.  "We’ve been waiting a long time for (development) to come.  We think it’s finally knocking."

For example, Petersen said, Vestar Development Co. has plans to build a major commercial center of up to 1 million square feet at Gilbert Road and the freeway about 2005.

The airpark has the potential to rival Scottsdale Airpark, Petersen said. Scottsdale Airpark is expected to be the largest employment center in the state by 2010 with 3,000 businesses and 50,000 jobs, said Gary Mascaro, assistant aviation director at Scottsdale Airport.

Petersen said the Chandler Airpark may attract even more developers in the long run.  Much of the land around it is empty, so builders don’t have to worry about accommodating development.  Also, employers can lure workers with high-quality housing that is already built or being planned for the area.

The remaining farmers are preparing for the boom the freeway will bring.

Paul Scherrer, owner of Marthalinda Dairy on Ocotillo Road near McQueen Road, is looking for buyers. Scherrer, 72, said Chandler has approved plans for homes, offices and shops on his 120 acres, and he hopes to sell to developers by next spring.  Scherrer’s dairy is about 2 1 /2 miles south of the planned San Tan Freeway.

"They’re encroaching on us.  We are totally enclosed by homes," said Scherrer, adding that his colleagues will probably also be gone in about four years.  "There’s no question.  You cannot operate anymore.  You’ll have too many complaints."

New residents ask when the dairy will move, Scherrer said.

"No matter what you do, you’re going to have flies, and you’re going to have smells," he said.

Even residents fond of the rural lifestyle accept that urbanization is inevitable.

"Look at the traffic all around you," said Leroy Martin Jr., who lives near Pecos and Alma School roads.  "It’s so doggone crowded.  You need more freeway."

Others, such as McDonald, said they may move away.  McDonald grew up on an acre of land, where she has chickens, cows, dogs, cats and a pet tarantula.

"I have room to roam that’s mine.  I like the scenery.  I love it that it’s not man-madelooking," McDonald said.  "There’s tons of cookie-cutter homes going out there.  When you go into the new neighborhoods, there’s these little twig trees. Every front yard looks the same."

City officials said they want residents like McDonald to stay to help maintain some of the rural quality that makes the area so attractive.  Pluster said plans for southeast Chandler require that homes be built on large lots to protect the open space and countryside.

Much of the more intense development will focus around the San Tan Freeway and the airport, where it’s not suitable to have housing, he said.  Upscale retail centers and multistory office buildings are expected to pop up at most of the freeway’s major intersections, Pluster said.

For example, Ryan Cos. plans to add six office buildings in the next five years to the company’s three buildings already near 56 th Street and the future freeway alignment, said Bob Mulhern, vice president of development for the company.

"The property has San Tan (Freeway) frontage, and that’s important to our tenants," he said.  "In this part of the Valley, with all the residential (development) nearby, it’ll develop quicker than other parts of the Valley where freeways and loops have gone in."