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Two housing projects slated for Phoenix

Architect Mark McKechnie, left, and property owner Vin Mehta look over plans for a four-story, 55-unit apartment project to be constructed on the site where Mehta's VS Plaza commercial center burned down in the Almeda fire. Photo by Jim Flint
An architect's rendering shows a planned 55-unit apartment building to be constructed on the site where the VS Plaza retail center burned down during the Almeda fire. The four-story complex will have 16 two-bedroom apartments and 39 one-bedroom units. Drawing provided by Oregon Architecture, Inc.
Two shopping centers that burned along Highway 99 in Phoenix will be turned into housing

In the 10 months since the Almeda fire destroyed nearly 2,500 residences in the Phoenix-Talent area, new and transitional housing has been slow to develop. Families are still scrambling to find a place to live.

Two new projects slated for construction in Phoenix will help alleviate the shortage, providing an estimated 135 new rental housing units.

The projects will be constructed on sites formerly occupied by the Pacific Plaza Shopping Center at 4149 S. Pacific Highway and the VS Plaza at 4150 S. Pacific Highway, across the street and behind the Jack in the Box restaurant. Both centers were destroyed by the Almeda fire last September.

Construction of VS Apartments on the former VS Plaza site will likely begin in October or November of this year and completed in early 2023. Specific plans for the former Pacific Plaza site will be announced at a later date.

Oregon Architecture, Inc., a Medford-based firm, is the architect of record for the projects. It also is working on other residential projects in the cities of Phoenix, Talent, Medford and Ashland to deal with the loss of housing from the Almeda fire. The projects will create nearly 300 new units.

Mark McKechnie is the principal architect with the eight-member firm, which specializes in historic redevelopment, energy-efficient structures, multifamily housing, medical offices and hospitality. He credits the city of Phoenix for making the two new projects possible.

“In a bold and forward-thinking move, the city changed its development code in April of this year to allow residential uses within the Highway Commercial Zone,” McKechnie said.

The city has two commercial zones — Highway Commercial and Center City Commercial. Prior to April, residential uses were allowed only in the Center City Commercial zone.

“This change makes a lot of sense in the post-COVID era,” McKechnie said. “Online shopping has exploded and the current need for commercially zoned land is greatly diminished.”

The change also allows for multi-use properties offering a combination of residential and commercial uses to be developed without having to go through a conditional use or exception process.

“In the case of the VS Apartments project, residents will be able to take advantage of its convenient location near many existing businesses,” McKechnie said.

The owners are Vin and Seema Mehta, a couple who developed the Jack in the Box franchise flag within Oregon and southern Washington. Ultimately, they owned more than 60 franchise locations prior to selling them about two years ago. They also own other restaurant and hotel properties in Oregon.

The change in zoning regulations was welcome news to Mehta.

“I want to thank the city of Phoenix for helping make it possible to build here,” he said. He also expressed appreciation for the fast settlement by his insurance company, Oregon Mutual, on the loss of his commercial center. “They cut me a check in two days,” he said.

VS Apartments will be four stories high in roughly the same footprint of the burned-down strip center. It will have 55 units — 16 two-bedroom and 39 one-bedroom apartments, with a variety of floor plans.

Apartments will range in size from 625-700 square feet for the one-bedroom units and 850-925 square feet for the two-bedroom units. All will be single level residences.

The building will have a public lobby, a mail room, an elevator and a fire-suppression system. Each unit will be equipped with a private washer/dryer hook-up.

A green area will be developed nearby for residents to enjoy.

“The site is located adjacent to Coleman Creek, which was mostly spared by the fire, even though all the construction around it burned,” McKechnie said.

“The retail center had a nice little landscaped park adjacent to the creek, which will be refurbished with shrubs and trees.”

The project will be constructed to comply with current green and energy-efficiency standards, and will have mini-split mechanical units for heating and cooling.

“The building will be structurally equipped to accept solar panels in the future,” he said.

The project is currently in for development approval with the city. McKechnie expects to submit the building permit application in August. Final construction cost has not yet been determined and a general contractor has yet to be selected.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.