AdobeHawes Crossing:
A Win for Gateway

Hawes Crossing unleashes the vision for Gateway Airport and Economic Development in the region. We can learn from success stories in other amazing places.


November 10, 2019

Dear Mesa Mayor, City Council, Staff, and Community at Large:

Belief in the potential of Mesa and the Gateway area is in my DNA. My family has been here since Mesa was founded in 1878. We have been farming around Gateway since the 1940’s and developing there since the 1970’s. I have worked on development projects in the inner loop, the Pecos Road Corridor, Queen Creek, and up and down the Power Road corridor including office buildings, shopping centers, neighborhoods, apartments, a movie theater, and soon to break ground on a hotel. I own and wish to develop property adjacent to the dairies. I’ve sat on the board of East Valley Partnership, Pinal Partnership, GPEC, Superstition Vistas Steering Committee, Queen Creek Economic Development Commission, Maricopa County Planning and Zoning Commission, the 2008 Gateway Strategic Plan Stakeholder Group, the recent Gateway Land Use Compatibility Plan Stakeholder Group, and many other roles that give me a front row seat as an active participant in land planning, economic development, market dynamics, and of course, the success of Gateway. I know from a multi-generational standpoint what it takes to transform raw desert into something spectacular. I know how that is done on the back of the hard work and vision of generations that have gone before. I know the potential of Gateway and I’m deeply vested in seeing that potential happen.

Crane Building New OfficeOur Two Top Priorities: Airport and Economic Development

From that experience I know that two of the most important objectives in Mesa and the southeast valley are 1) protecting and growing Gateway Airport, 2) advancing a long-standing vision to create a world class employment hub in and around Gateway. Mesa and other regional leaders have devoted huge amounts of energy, thought, planning, action, and money into these objectives for decades. I believe in these objectives and stand by our shared regional commitment to them. That commitment is already paying off and will do so exponentially through coming generations.

Approval of the proposed Hawes Crossing project does not mean undermining those two critical obligations. Just the opposite, it means advancing those objectives with vision, leadership, and innovation. It means unlocking the huge potential at the front door of the Gateway region currently stifled by dairies, blight, and lack of infrastructure.

On the other hand, not approving Hawes Crossing actually cripples the potential of the airport and stifles economic development. How? Over the past two and a half decades of Gateway’s history, the incredibly well-placed desire to protect the airport and advance economic development has generated some understandable but misplaced ideas on the best way to do that. Instead of protecting our vision and aspirations, these misplaced ideas have become stumbling blocks to achieving the very things we want the most:

1) Mixing Housing and Employment

First, the misplaced belief that a thriving employment hub means no residential integration. For the high-end, high-wage employers we aspire to attract, the exact opposite is true. Some of the most thriving high-end employment hubs in the country succeed not by excluding housing, but in large part because of housing that is so integral to the bringing those areas to life. The term “Live Work Play” gets thrown around so nonchalantly that it has become clichĂ©. However, it truly remains the essence of what makes the great employment hubs work. Notably, the word “Live” is the first word in that phrase and that means housing. If we aspire for the inner loop, the front door to Gateway, to be nothing more than a sea of warehouses or heavier industrial buildings with lower wage jobs, then yes, maybe it is best to keep housing out. To that, it is important to note that we do have over six square miles identified south of the airport along the Pecos Road corridor from Power to Meridian that easily exceeds future demand for those kinds of uses. But, more importantly, if we aspire for the front door of Gateway to have a wide mix of employment, especially high-end jobs, well planned housing becomes essential not just as a catalyst, but as the life blood that keeps it vital and active for generations to come.

Employment Hub on Fire: Utah’s Thanksgiving Point
As an example, I’ve been astonished to watch the evolution of Utah’s Thanksgiving Point. Just a few decades ago, it was farms, dairies, and some heavy industrial. Now, within just a few miles radius of the I-15 and Timpanogos Highway interchange known also as The Point of the Mountain, an amazing transformation has taken place that in so many ways epitomizes what we aspire to achieve around Gateway. In addition to thousands of apartments, town houses, entry level homes, move up homes, and high-end custom homes, there are several dozen mid-rise Class-A office buildings with employers like Oracle and Adobe side by side with a thriving lineup of home-grown startups. This hub has become nationally admired and envied as the Silicon Slopes. Mixed in with all those jobs and houses there is high-end retail and restaurants, boutique shops, several new hotels, a new hospital, a movie theater, a Porsche and Audi dealership, museums, youth activity and science centers, parks, trails, outdoor festivals, the spectacular Ashton Gardens, and a commuter rail station. Housing in that area is not some nuisance that had to be merely dealt with or avoided. Housing, and the people who live there, are essential to what brings that place to life, day AND night, and makes it so attractive to the incredible employers clamoring to be there. Every time I’m up there and see new cranes building gorgeous new buildings, I wonder why they have all that amazing stuff and we don’t. Granted, Silicon Slopes does have the benefit of a few mega-unicorn events (Word Perfect that sold to Novell, Omniture that sold to Adobe, etc.) that created a unique pool of venture capital, tech talent, and startup culture that we don’t have. But, we have things they don’t have like a much better freeway and local road system, a much bigger population base for workforce, far more land to grow including far more available employment land, and to top the list, the airport itself. We can and should aspire to what they have and more. That will not come by sitting back and waiting. That will come by us as a region taking strong and innovative leadership of our future. The key lesson at Thanksgiving Point is that an attitude of action, a culture of saying “yes,” and a few critical game changing moments triggered massive transformation.

Freeway Office Houses

Gateway needs that game changing moment. Hawes Crossing is that moment. It is the kind of opportunity that only presents itself every few generations. Playing “not to lose” is not playing to win. If all we do is preserve and protect, that is merely playing “not to lose.” Playing to win means assertively and proactively taking control of the things we can control, leveraging our strengths, and redirecting the future in our favor. The Gateway region has far more employment land designated than it will ever absorb. Just preserving for the sake of preserving it is not a strategy. That is just kicking the can. Preservation alone doesn’t bring the jobs and vitality. It just defers opportunity and success. We can afford to put measured and strategic portions of that land into play, intelligently leveraging housing to drive our very best employment land into highest and best use.

HousingThis Implements the 2008 Gateway Strategic Plan
I was on the 2008 Gateway Strategic Plan stakeholder committee. This kind of innovative and integrated thinking was very much part of that conversation and that plan. At the public hearing when that plan was adopted, there was discussion on the dais about the day when the right kind of housing would become an important part of the inner loop. This quote embodies the spirit of the 2008 plan of moving past older more monolithic thinking to a better vision of what a more integrated and mixed Gateway region could be:

The Mesa Gateway Area was once envisioned as a vast area of airport-related industrial development. During this planning process, many of the stakeholders challenged the City of Mesa to think differently about the area. In response, the Mesa Gateway Strategic Development Plan sets forth a new vision for the area to address their specific goals…The new vision for this area embraces a more integrated development pattern with more flexibility in locating land uses. This plan recognizes that a mix of uses in close proximity to each other is vital to creating livable and sustainable places that will grow well over time and retain their value.

Hawes Crossing builds on that “new vision” by bringing a more diverse “mix of uses” into much more “close proximity to each other” in order to be more “livable and sustainable.” That is what will make the inner loop a vibrant and prosperous place. Hawes Crossing is not a wholesale conversion of prime employment land into houses just because it is easy low hanging fruit. After years of painstaking work refining the plan, Hawes Crossing alone still has more employment land than residential with thousands of additional employment acres remaining in the inner loop. This is not a betrayal of years of thought and planning. Rather, it is a logical and strategic implementation of the true vision and spirit of the 2008 Gateway Strategic Plan. It is the key to take Gateway’s most prime employment land off the sidelines and into action where it belongs. Hawes Crossing unleashes the best potential of what we’ve all hoped for all these years.


2) Airport Protection From Noise Complaints

Next, the misplaced belief that in order to protect the airport from future noise complaints, you must push housing miles and miles away from the airport. Now, there is clear case study of airport operations around the country being hampered by noise complaints. This is a concern that should be taken seriously and must be addressed carefully. The recently updated land use compatibility study is the foundational tool to do this. I was on that stakeholder committee as well. It is the result of extensive and thorough study with the protection of the airport as its primary purpose. Hawes Crossing lies entirely within AOA3, clearly designated as compatible for housing. That is the same AOA3 designation as well over 100 square miles and tens of thousands of homes from north of the Superstition Freeway down past Riggs Road, from Val Vista all the way east past Ironwood and Schnepf Roads. In order to leave no further doubt as to the compatibility of Hawes Crossing beyond just the AOA3 designation, the study calls out a specific overly designation that includes the inner loop as “Mixed Use - Residential Allowed.” See Exhibit 3 and 4 in the study. You are fulfilling your obligation to protect the airport by relying on the data driven, professional methodology-based results that study provides. To expand the scope of land use decisions beyond those findings risks being arbitrary, subjective, and undermining of the credibility of study itself.

New OfficeBut, beyond the study, there is a much bigger picture to consider. While your stewardship to protect the airport is essential, it is not your only stewardship. You have many critical and complicated objectives to address in tandem and in balance. For instance, you are also tasked with laying the foundations for Gateway both as an airport AND as a region to become thriving, healthy, and successful with massive amounts of activity, vitality, jobs, commerce, and central to all that, people. An airport surrounded by vacant desert, scrap yards, and dairies incalculably underutilizes the true potential Gateway has to bring this region alive. Of course, if you hold out long enough, market pressures will eventually replace those dairies with purely non-residential uses. While that would certainly mean reduced risk of noise complaints, you will have let precious time and opportunity go by with a massive eyesore and regional deterrent at the front door. More importantly, when the inner loop finally does develop, needlessly delayed perhaps by decades, it will do so without the vitality that well thought out housing can and should bring to our highest and best potential.

For you to not take seriously enough the need to protect the airport could truly cause real future harm. However, to overcorrect for this protection, or focus on it at the exclusion of other critical dynamics is myopic and could be comparable to amputating a leg in order minimize the future risk of a sprained ankle. You will certainly succeed in never having a sprained ankle. But, that’s only because don’t have an ankle to sprain. Our objective is not just to protect, but to protect AND grow the airport.

Liberty Station in San Diego is an interesting example of a city being given a clean slate with the re-development of the Naval Training Center. Known for difficult airport overflight issues, San Diego could have eliminated housing completely from the new development. Instead, it chose to thoughtfully integrate the right kind of housing in the right kind of places to make Liberty Station one of the most vibrant and fascinating new activity hubs in recent decades. Office buildings, schools, parks, houses, and apartments coexist directly near and under the flight path and not only does it work, it is amazing. Having said that, the housing proposed in Hawes Crossing is nowhere near as close to the airport or flight paths as Liberty Station making it even far more compatible.

The Practical Reality Reason to Say Yes

At a practical level, we are at a critical pivot point. The dairies either have to double down and reinvest in decades of continued operation, or they need a path to sell and move on. Either we facilitate a path forward for the dairy land to develop into a vibrant success story, or we continue to keep the diary owner’s hands tied perpetuating many more decades of dairies, flies, smell, junk yards, and surrounding vacant desert that nobody wants to go develop. There is nothing that would harm our aspirations for Gateway and the region more than to perpetuate the current condition. I’ve been a property owner in that area for nearly 20 years and have tried to find a way to build those cool employment buildings we all know belong out there. But, surrounded by dairies with no infrastructure, I and other landowners in the inner loop have very limited options.

We can talk all day long about vision, we can draw the most beautiful maps and pictures of what the place could be, but until something game changing happens like the Hawes Crossing proposal, the blight on Gateway’s aspirations that is currently the inner loop may stay that way for decades to come. If not this, what? Unless you are able to bring forward and incredibly audacious and expensive capital plan to transform this area some other way, the dairies will not go away on their own any time soon. The Hawes Crossing proposal can leverage the power of the market now to make this transformation real.

The Visionary Reason to Say Yes

Having said all that, put pragmatics aside and consider the much more important visionary reason this makes sense. Even if the entire inner loop was a true blank slate, with no dairies, no fractured ownership, just clean raw desert land controlled completely by the city, I believe with absolute conviction that to serve our aspirations for this part of Mesa to be a true crown jewel of commerce, activity, and a destinational sense of place, this is still the right thing to do. Even if we had a magic wand that could make this land whatever we wanted, we would still be looking at thoughtful, well planned housing as an essential part of that vision. As we see in so many other employment hub success stories, housing is a crucial part of what lights a place up. This is not just using housing to take the quick and easy way out. Regardless of the short term practical reasons, it is the right thing to do for the long term vision because it best serves the highest potential of what this area can and should become.

Houses and Offices

Accountability to Future Generations

This is about our shared accountability to future generations. I say that from the perspective of gratitude for five generations in Mesa before me that took their accountability very seriously. As I watch you wrestle with these truly difficult decisions, it is abundantly clear how seriously you take on that accountability as well. For that, thank you. For very good reason, there is much well-placed concern about leaving future generations with tension and conflict around airport noise or shortchanging them on economic potential. While those concerns matter, there is no way to have a truly vibrant and ultra-active regional hub without some tension and conflict. Total elimination of that tension is neither a realistic nor appropriate goal. We can and should do every reasonable and balanced thing we can to mitigate for that as we have done with the Gateway Land Use Compatibility Study. But, I’d much rather have future generations wondering what our generation was thinking as they sort out some of the tension that comes with the prosperity, complexity, and excitement of a region on fire with activity than for them to wonder why those dairies are still there or why all that really good vacant land in the inner loop has been skipped over.

This Is Not Our This Land

One final note. Many of these families have owned these properties for 40 years or more. They were there long before the airport became Gateway, long before this area was Mesa, long before there were general plans or strategic plans, long before there was a freeway, and long before many of us making decisions about their land even knew this place existed. It is easy for the rest of us to sit around and talk about their property and what we want to do with it as if we own it, as if we’ve spent the last several decades working the property, and as if we’ve spent all these years paying off the mortgages. Well, it isn’t our property. While it is appropriate to ask property owners wanting to develop their land to play a positive and contributing role in the good of a city and region, the rest of us should use great caution and restraint in telling people what they can and can’t do with their property, especially those who have spent a lifetime working to own it. They’ve already waited decades for their property to be in a condition to develop. There are significant ethical questions to consider when we use the heavy hand of regulatory authority to tell them they may need to wait a few more decades for the benefit of everyone else but them. True, huge land use decisions like this should not be all about the landowner. However, we must avoid the all too common tendency to disregard the landowner as we leverage the land they’ve labored a lifetime to own for stuff the rest of us need. The good news is that approving Hawes Crossing is not the landowners winning at the expense of the city and region losing. In addition to all the regional benefits above, neighbors to this proposal are literally begging for it to be approved at an astonishing and unprecedented level. This is a win-win in its purest form. These landowners can move forward in exercising their fundamental right to prosper from the use of their land while Mesa, Gateway, and the region can prosper at a whole new level on the leap forward Hawes Crossing will bring.

Thank You,
Jason Barney