Surprise council leans toward assisting veterans hall

By Richard Smith
Independent Newsmedia

While the Surprise City Council did not take action during its Aug. 1 meeting, but gave positive feedback for the city sponsoring a zoning amendment that would allow for a future Veterans Memorial Hall.

This nonprofit is the more recent formalization of a concept that has been around for about a decade. Five Surprise-based veterans groups found obtaining land and building a permanent building, so they banded together to pool their resources and build a hall for all local veteran organizations.

The Veterans Memorial Hall has a site chosen, half a mile north of Peoria Avenue on the west side of Litchfield Road. Right now, those 5.7 acres are zoned as rural residential and must be rezoned for community commercial to allow for the hall.

The entrance sign to the Surprise Civic Center (Independent Newsmedia file)

That is where the city may come in. Surprise can choose to cover the estimated $60,300 in fees associated with the rezoning — including impact fees, building permits and water and sewer fees.

“It’s going to have to be rezoned anyway, so why don’t we just sponsor it and give the veterans a chance to move forward,” Councilman Skip Hall said during the meeting.

Right now the land is owned by the Reformed Church in America Classis of the Southwest. However, since the property is within the Luke Air Force Base 65 ldn noise contour line, it cannot be used for residential property or as a church.

Community Development Director Eric Fitzer said the city just received owner authorization for the rezoning.

“The city has sponsored rezoning in the past. If you remember, not too long ago we had the Paradise Acres PUD,” Mr. Fitzer said.

Council questions about the city sponsoring the zoning amendment were largely procedural. Mayor Sharon Wolcott asked what in statute allows a veterans hall within the noise contour line, and Mr. Fitzer said a veterans hall and a few other specific uses are allowed.

Councilman John Williams wanted more clarity on the gift clause of the Arizona Constitution.

“The governing body has to find that the project being funded has a public benefit. That’s the easy problem to overcome because the courts give great deference to bodies such as yourself in defining what is a public benefit for the community,” said City Attorney Robert Wingo. ”It’s the second component. You have to get some kind of bargain for consideration of roughly equivalent value of what you’re giving.”

Local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Marine Corps League and Navy Seabee Veterans comprise the Veterans Memorial Hall. The building would give all five organizations a permanent home, a phone and office.

Plans are for a 10,000-square-foot hall that includes educational exhibits. It will provide a central meeting place for veteran organizations and a social events venue.

Treasurer Mark Newman said in 2016 that the entire project, could cost anywhere from $7 to $15 million depending on the cost of the land and how soon construction can start.

Any honorably discharged veteran may join for a fee and members of the charter organizations pay a reduced fee. Veterans Memorial Hall plans to display military items on the land south of the building.

“This facility will be open to Luke personnel as well,” said Dave Valliancourt, vice president of the hall’s board.
Bingo, weddings and other public rental events will be offered at the hall and help pay for upkeep once it opens, he said.

Mr. Valliancourt said the nonprofit is seeking a pair of $300,000 grants — from the Gila River Indian Reservation, and the John F. Long Foundation.

Councilman Todd Tande lives in the area. He said he has not heard any concerns from residents of neighboring Copper Canyon Ranch or Kenly Farms.

“We at least need to move forward. We need to keep talking. Reach out to your neighbors. There’s a lot of complications down the road that we can undercut if we get to it early and make sure that neighbors have an understanding of what you’re trying to do” Ms. Wolcott said.

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