Gilbert residents and watchdog seek recusal for rezoning vote after developer contributes thousands to council member campaigns

GILBERT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — Arizona’s Family is investigating an outside developer behind a project that could bring warehouses and tractor-trailers right next to a neighborhood. This developer is now at the center of allegations of “paying to play” with members of the city council. The proposed project is meeting growing opposition that will be voted on Tuesday evening at the Gilbert City Council meeting.

The center of the controversy is land next to a beautiful neighborhood called Morrison Ranch. “It was meant to be our forever home,” Sarah Strazza said. And now an out-of-state developer wants to fill that parcel of land with warehouses and tractor-trailers. “It’s not just the sound that scares me, it’s everything that goes with it,” said Ryan Handelsman. Gilbert’s Morrison Ranch lured the likes of Strazza, Handelsman and Brian Mosely away from the city. “This entire community fosters a family neighborhood,” Handelsman said.

Strazza thinks of the landscape. “The mountains in the background with all the lush greenery,” Strazza said. “I really like it here.” But that could soon end with a development project. “I naively assumed the city was going to push back, that it was too close,” Mosely said.

According to a Gilbert Planning Commission report, the Dale Morrison Family Trust is selling the land to Nevada industrial developer, IndiCap. The development called “The Ranch” comprises over 15 buildings with retail stores along Elliott Road near Power Road, but it primarily offers industrial uses with 55-65ft high manufacturing warehouses for produce. such as semiconductors as well as 950 trucking bays for semiconductors. “These trucks are huge,” Strazza said.

But the residents of Gilbert just two years ago ratified the zoning of this property, capping light industrial development at 56 acres. “When we bought our homes, we were told it would stay that way,” Strazza said. But now IndiCap wants to rezone it for 255 acres of light industry, four and a half times the original. “It just doesn’t make sense,” Handelsman said. “We scratch our heads trying to figure out: why? said Handelsman.

Arizona’s Family learned through campaign finance reports that the developer, IndiCap lead co-founder Todd Otransky, donated $5,000 to board members Scott September and Yung Koprowski’s re-election campaigns in July. The couple also received money from the law firm Withey Morris which represents IndiCap. For each of their campaigns, donations from the law firm and developer make up more than 10% of their total contributions. “I think they’re trying to sway the votes,” Strazza said.

Tom Ryan is a Valley surveillance attorney. “It’s not illegal, not unethical, but it’s wrong, morally wrong. They have to recuse themselves,” Ryan said. September said in a phone call to the Arizona family that the contributions didn’t buy his vote. In a text, Koprowski told Arizona’s Family, “Contributions have no bearing on the votes I take,” and I vote for and against projects based on the merits of the project.”

“That’s ridiculous. Of course it will,” Ryan said. “They know exactly what that money is for. They know what it’s for,” Ryan added. return the money, send them a letter saying ‘never donate to me again’ and now let’s see how they vote,” Ryan said.

IndiCap’s Mike Chernine, listed as a key company founder on its website, never responded to Arizona’s Family’s numerous requests for comment.

In a political profile of his then-wife, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Chernine was hit with a lien from the IRS for more than $2.5 million in unpaid income tax in 2008. The Dallas Morning News found Chernine was also involved in investments that resulted in a loss of $200 million for the Dallas Police and Fire Department Pension Fund in 2005.

In a 2020 interview with the Scrappy Entrepreneur Podcast on YouTube, Chernine talks about his strategy of rezoning properties with the help of local politicians to make a profit. (hyperlink:) “Really, you make money on the purchase,” Chernine said. “You buy it right or you have it and create value. Get it zoned for apartments or something, so we used our political clout to do it.

Adam Baugh, Withey Morris’ attorney and Morrison Ranch resident representing IndiCap, defended the light industry proposal before Gilbert’s planning commission in late October, pointing to a 60-foot-wide landscaped pathway buffer between the homes and industrial area as well as job growth for the city. “It will create new jobs, bring those jobs closer to home,” Baugh said.

“Having a reason for jobs is not enough to ignore the nineties about having a balanced community, having a livable community, a walkable community,” Mosely said. Gilbert’s promise of growth isn’t enough for the people who live here, who are afraid of tall buildings blocking their view and all that that could impact home value. “It will be light and sound and people are already talking about moving,” Mosely said. “It will devalue the nearest homes and be truly an eyesore with what is meant to be a great conclusion for the Morrison Ranch community.”

Gilbert City Council is due to vote on the rezoning on Tuesday. Councilors September, who lost his re-election bid, and Councilor Koprowski, who won hers, are expected to vote on the draft. Gilbert Mayor Brigette Peterson won’t say whether she thinks the two should recuse themselves from the vote after receiving those contributions. The Arizona family will keep you posted.

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