Friday, Nov. 21, 2008 | 3:20 p.m.
With a long-awaited traffic study in hand, the Henderson Planning Commission voted 5-0 Thursday to favorably recommend a 40-acre mixed-use project on the northwest corner of Stephanie Street and Wigwam Parkway.
The Park Heights project, in which GSG Development has requested permission to build 1,700 residences and 850,000 square feet of commercial space next to a planned city park, is scheduled to go before the City Council for final approval Dec. 16.
Since first seeing the proposal in September, planning commissioners had been generally supportive, but wary of certain details and insisted that GSG prepare a traffic study to examine whether surrounding streets — particularly Stephanie — could handle the load from a project of that magnitude.
Henderson Traffic Engineer John Penuelas said he has reviewed the study and believes the streets in the area can handle Park Heights — as long as its stores serve daily needs, such as grocery stores and dry cleaners, which would limit the need of residents to make car trips out of the development.
"Whenever you have differing uses on a single parcel, if they're compatible, there's going to be some interaction," he said. "The concept is simple. The tricky part is figuring out how much interaction there will be."
Based on current research into mixed-use developments around the country, Penuelas said, the number of car trips that stay within Park Heights would be about 23 percent. That would be the key to a manageable traffic increase, he said.
"It will be noticed," Penuelas said. "There will be impacts. Will it be gridlock? Not in my opinion. Will it be busier? Absolutely."
As part of their recommendation, commissioners added a condition that GSG return for design reviews of each phase of Park Heights so the city can assure that is being developed with enough commercial in its early phases to keep the traffic manageable, as well as to keep an eye on other issues, such as open space.
"I think it's really important that we maintain control over this project through the phases, given all the subjectivity," Commissioner George Bochanis said.
GSG Development Principal Kenneth Smith said his company bought the ground for Park Heights with the intention of creating a project that would be a gathering place for the city.
He pointed out that the project, which is within the city's Cornerstone Redevelopment Area, will generate an estimated $200 million in tax increments for the city, most of which will likely go to improve the adjacent planned park. He said GSG is also building a 30,000-square-foot civic building that the city will be able to use how it wants.
"We truly thought that we could create something that would be very relevant to this city," Smith said.
GSG didn't get everything it wanted from the Planning Commission, however. Commissioners denied its request for two 330-foot residential towers at the center of the project and recommended that they be limited to 250 feet.
Even at 250 feet, the towers would be the tallest buildings in Henderson, topping the 230-foot Sunset Station tower. But GSG Principal Kenneth Smith said limiting the height could seriously change the look of the project.
Smith said GSG is evaluating how it would deal with the 250-foot limit and has not decided whether it will ask the City Council to reverse the Planning Commission decision.
Smith said the company is moving forward with Park Heights and that he expects the first phase to be opening by 2011 — about when he expects the local economy to be moving forward again.
"It's a little odd in this timing, with everything that's going on in the macroeconomic situation, to come forth with a project of this size," Smith said. "But we expect that by the time our first phase is up in 2011, it will be a very good time."
Jeremy Twitchell can be reached at 990-8928 or [email protected].