Debate over whether to build single-family houses in Surprise's future downtown area may not be over after all.
Rose Law Group, a law firm representing Mattamy Homes, sent a letter to the City Council July 26 asking it to rehear the proposal, which the council narrowly denied in June.
The attorneys argue that council members can't deny a development because they'd prefer something else — that any rejected project would have to violate zoning law, which Rose Law Group asserts isn't the case. The letter concludes with a request that the council rehear the proposal on Aug. 15.
Councilman Skip Hall brought up the letter during the council's Aug. 1 meeting and asked that the council schedule a consultation with the city attorney during the Aug. 15 meeting, to which the council agreed.
Hall said he made the request to avoid future legal expenses, given the city settled a lawsuit against the landowner, Surprise Center Development Co., about a year ago.
Jordan Rose, founder and president of Rose Law Group, said she plans to discuss with City Attorney Robert Wingo how the proposal might return for another vote.
Wingo told The Republic that whether council can deny a proposal that follows zoning law demands complex legal analysis that spans multiple statutes.
"The law is fairly expansive," Wingo said. "I don't think I could provide in a few sentences even just an outline of all the laws that this implicates."
Wingo would not share the advice he plans to give council.
Rose said she was happy the council was consulting with Wingo, describing it as a "good first step."
Vice Mayor Todd Tande, who voted against the proposal, said a rehearing would require one member from the majority to make a motion to reconsider — a move he didn't think would happen. Tande said he was not inclined to rehear the proposal but welcomed the additional legal advice.
Council member Roland Winters welcomed Mattamy to do all it could to get the project reheard and approved.
"If they can find legal ground to still go forward with their project, my feeling is 'more power to them,' " Winters said.
Surprise's downtown, a 1-square-mile block bounded by Bullard Avenue and Litchfield, Bell and Greenway roads, includes city buildings and amenities such as a city park, aquatic center, tennis and racquetball center and library. Ottawa University is going to begin classes in the civic center building this month.
The city's general plan lays out a rough idea for the area, calling for medical offices, restaurants, shops, hotels, entertainment options and a four-year university.
Through the years, the city and Surprise Center Development Co. have detailed those ideas in master plans, but it has been a flexible blueprint influenced by Surprise's growth, development trends and, earlier, the Great Recession.
Dissent over how the city should develop its downtown erupted in June, as the council, the landowner and residents clashed over the proposal for Mattamy Homes to build 369 single-family houses on 56 acres, or just less than 10 percent of the downtown area.
Some council members and residents opposed the development, calling for apartments or condominiums to attract Millennials. Mattamy Homes representatives said focus groups showed greater demand for single-family houses.
The council voted, 4-3, against the proposal, with Mayor Sharon Wolcott joined by Tande and councilmen Ken Remley and Jim Hayden.
Councilmen Winters, Hall and John Williams argued that single-family homes would spur growth just fine, and apartments and condos didn't need to be in that specific part of the future downtown.