Gilbert residents, attorney demand recusal for rezoning vote after developer gives thousands to town councils’ campaigns

The development called “The Ranch," mainly touts industrial uses with manufacturing warehouses.
The development called “The Ranch," mainly touts industrial uses with manufacturing warehouses.(azfamily)
Published: Nov. 14, 2022 at 6:00 AM MST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2022 at 11:51 PM MST
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GILBERT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — Arizona’s Family is investigating an out-of-state developer behind a project that could bring warehouses and semi-trucks right next to a neighborhood. That developer is now at the center of “pay-for-play” allegations with Town Council members. The proposed project has mounting opposition that comes to a vote on Tuesday night at Gilbert’s Town Council meeting.

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

Strazza thinks about the scenery. “The mountains in the background with all of the lush greenery,” said Strazza. “I love it here.” But that could soon come to an end with a proposed development. “I assumed naively that the town was going to push back on it, that it was too close,” said Mosely. According to a Gilbert Planning Commission report, the Dale Morrison Family Trust is selling the plot of land to Nevada industrial developer, IndiCap.

The development called “The Ranch” includes more than 15 buildings with retail shops along Elliott Road near Power Road, but it mainly touts industrial uses with 55 to 65-foot-high manufacturing warehouses for products like semiconductors along with 950 trucking bays for semis. “These trucks are huge,” said Strazza. But the people who live in Gilbert, just two years ago, ratified the zoning for this property, capping light industrial development at 56 acres. “We were told when we purchased our homes that it would stay that way,” said Strazza. But now, IndiCap wants to rezone it for 255 acres of light industrial, four and a half times the original. “This just doesn’t make sense,” said Handelsman. “We are scratching our heads trying to figure out: Why?” said Handelsman.

Arizona’s Family has learned through campaign finance reports that the developer, IndiCap’s VP of Southwestern Division, Todd Ostransky, made $5,000 contributions to councilmembers Scott September’s and Yung Koprowski’s reelection campaigns in July. The pair also received money from the law firm Withey Morris which represents IndiCap. For each of their campaigns, the donations from the law firm and developer are more than 10% of their total contributions. “I think they are trying to sway votes,” said Strazza.

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

“It’s ridiculous. Of course it will,” said Ryan. “They know exactly what that money is all about. They know what it’s for,” added Ryan. “Here’s my test. Tell them to give back the money, send them a letter saying, ‘don’t ever donate to me again’ and now let’s see how they vote,” said Ryan. IndiCap’s Mike Chernine, listed as one of the companies founding principals on their website, never responded to Arizona’s Family’s several 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 $200 million loss for Dallas’ police and fire pension fund in 2005. In a 2020 interview with the Scrappy Entrepreneur podcast on YouTube, Chernine talks about his strategy for rezoning properties with the help of local politicians to turn a profit. (hyperlink:) “Really you make money on the buy,” said Chernine. “You buy it right or you got and create value. Get it zoned for apartments or something, so we used our political pull in order to do that.”

Adam Baugh, the Withey Morris attorney and Morrison Ranch resident representing IndiCap, defended the light industrial proposal in front of Gilbert’s Planning Commission in late October, pointing to a 60-foot-wide landscape trail buffer between the homes and the industrial zone as well as job growth for the town. “This will create new employments, will create those employments closer to homes,” said Baugh.

“Having one reason for jobs is not enough to ignore the ninety about having a balanced community, having a livable community, a walkable community,” said Mosely. The promise of Gilbert’s growth is not enough for the people who live here, who have fears of tall buildings blocking their view and everything that comes along with it that could impact home values. “It will cause noise and light and people are already talking about moving out,” said Mosely. “It will devalue the homes closest to it and really be an eyesore with what’s supposed to be a beautiful conclusion to the Morrison Ranch community.”

The Gilbert Town Council is set to vote on the rezoning on Tuesday. Councilmen September, who lost his reelection bid, and Councilwoman Koprowski, who won hers, are slated to vote on the project. Gilbert Mayor Brigette Peterson won’t say if she thinks the two should recuse themselves from the vote after receiving those contributions. Arizona’s Family will keep you updated.

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