By Tim J. Randall
In contemplating the surge of multifamily building in the past several years, it is instructive to explore the legal environment for the approvals of these properties. Prominent Zoning Attorney, Nick Wood, of Snell and Wilmer, provides strategic clarity on these challenging issues.
“I play chess every day…on the computer but also in my practice,” he says. Wood works the board as it is, when processing his zoning cases.
Wood has been involved in multifamily projects all over the Valley; the list is replete with signature addresses – 44 Monroe in Downtown Phoenix, 26th and Camelback, Rockefeller, and 44th and Camelback – as examples. Each project, he points out, with multifamily presents a unique set of challenges.
“Neighbors often have a built-in bias against multifamily…so you have to spend a significant amount of time walking them through the process, soliciting their feedback and understanding their concerns,” he says. “Once we understand their issues, we can find solutions. Collaboration and cooperation with neighbors are a couple of the keys to success.”
Wood’s expertise and knowledge overlay with so many of the projects that come to fruition. Wood may appear multiple times in a deal. In 2007, Wood successfully rezoned a nine acre mixed-use parcel that fronts on both Camelback Road and 44th Street next to the Londen Center. The initial level of opposition was strong but he and his client worked hard to gain neighbor support. The recession doomed that project. He recently rezoned the same site for a 330 unit luxury apartment project for JLB Company. Wood also zoned a property at 26th and Camelback that had previously been the subject of several stories in Commercial Executive and was originally a 2004 Donald Trump project. In 2006, after the Trump project failed, Wood was engaged by Bayrock to negotiate with the neighborhood representatives that defeated Trump to obtain zoning for a 75-foot tall luxury hotel and multifamily complex. Unfortunately, the recession also prevented the development of that project. However, Wood returned in 2010 as the lawyer for Alliance to convert the Bayrock plan to the luxury apartment project that is currently under construction. It is precisely these kinds of transactions which speak to the adaptability and expertise of Wood. Investors and developers know the professionals who can be depended on for their sagacity and diligence to achieve results.
A Deal for Two
One of the most interesting aspects of the multifamily resurgence includes the advent of new joint ventures between traditional luxury apartment developers and non-traditional real estate investors. For example, Mark-Taylor and Penske Automotive have teamed up in a mixed-use multifamily deal in Tempe as have Kitchell and Mark-Taylor in upscale multifamily projects.
“These new opportunities are very exciting,” Wood says. With new partnerships structures and projects, come new challenges as well. Despite the recession, deals do not happen anymore expeditiously than they did before. “Politicians may come and go, but zoning lawyers are forever,” Wood says. “However, high-quality projects and respect for the community remain constant.”
Wood looks at multifamily as a developing model with density per acre increasing. However, city standards remain consistent within the Phoenix metro.
“City Councils understandably demand quality, accountability and great projects,” Wood notes.