Official marching orders have been set laying out perimeters for the Paradise Valley Planning Commission to scrutinize and evaluate revamped plans for SmokeTree Resort.
While the legacy resort is in the early stages of going through the town’s official municipal approval process, the larger discussion of welcoming public input and comment while adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines is on the minds’ of Paradise Valley officials, it appears.
The Paradise Valley Town Council discussed, and later unanimously approved, the statement of direction for the legacy resort at 7101 E. Lincoln Drive.
The SOD is a municipal document that outlines the areas and aspects of a project the council would like Planning Commission to focus on during scrutiny.
Once Paradise Valley renders a recommendation or denial on the project, the project plans will return for council’s proverbial blessing.
SmokeTree had initially submitted plans for their redevelopment more than a year ago, before receiving denial from the Planning Commission majority.
Owners Gentree LLC have amended their plans for the 1954 property and re-submitted a tapered down request.
Toward that end, plans no longer allow for-sale properties, unit count was cut to 122 hotel rooms, removing balconies from perimeter buildings and capping building height at 36 feet.
The project includes:
The project’s setbacks are 98 feet on the north; 45 feet on the east; 60 feet on the south; and 75 feet on the west.
Town Council discussed the revised proposal at their June 11 meeting where staff compared it to the original 2019 statement of direction. Subsequent to that meeting, the applicant provided written correspondence waiving their right to a public hearing prior to sending the revised proposal back to the Planning Commission for consideration, town officials say.
The SOD outlines that the Commission’s focus should be on reviewing the visible, audible and operational effects the major amendment might have on the resort’s neighbors.
In particular, the areas of focus during review should be, according to the statement of direction:
In addition, the Planning Commission is encouraged to receive public feedback on the new proposal --- which Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner says might be difficult in the current situation.
The Town of Paradise Valley has been holding electronic meetings since March, due to COVID-19. And, Town Hall is not open to the public right now.
“I have kind of a correlating concern, which is that I’m not sure how a citizen-review session works on Zoom for people who aren’t as familiar with it. There may, in my opinion, need to be a little more education, maybe a little more notice to get people comfortable wit how that works,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.
“It’s not just showing up. I don’t think under the current county regulations and current CDC guidelines we want to encourage gatherings of over 10 people, which is how we would normally do a public session. There may need to be some additional time and additional thought given to how to accommodate public participation.”
Vice Mayor Julie Pace made some suggestions on the same topic, however they were not supported by her colleagues.
“This summer I was going to bring it up, but this is the perfect time with the topics raised,” Ms. Pace said. “I think it would be helpful to our residents to be allowing them to come to Town Hall to speak with a microphone with no one else there --- because it’s very physically distanced that way. They can participate in zoom if they want, but for those who are used to the old fashion way, walk through the door, walk in, speak on the microphone with the camera, and no one else in the room --- people can line up like they do at Costco, outside, 10-feet apart.”
Ms. Pace said she feels like some residents are inhibited by using the technology, and for important projects such as SmokeTree, getting resident feedback is imperative.
“I just think that we may need to re-think, and like you said mayor, maybe there’s other ways, but to me that’s simple,” she said. “It just seems like an easy thing to do and an idea we can think about.” Town Manager Jill Keimach asked to have a longer conversation about Ms. Pace’s ideas for holding public comment at the Town Hall complex, pointing to CDC issues, such as cleaning the podium after each guest.
“We’re trying to keep our public space as free from the public as possible,” Ms. Keimach said. “I think it’s a longer conversation with the whole council as far as how we want to do that.”
Mr. Bien-Willner said he agrees with Ms. Keimach that there is a logistical issue with Ms. Pace’s suggestion.
“On a Zoom meeting or a conference call people can hear what’s going on before they speak. If you have people coming up to a microphone to speak, where do they listen to what’s happening? That suggests they’re going to be waiting in some public area, and like our town manager said, that raises a whole host of issues,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.
“So I’m not sure that’s the answer for this. But I think it’s something we could certainly ask the commission to look at --- how to maximize public input and make reasonable accommodations for people who aren’t as familiar with the technology. Including calling them or other mechanisms to get them looped in that avoids the physical contact issues the town manager described.”
Councilmember Paul Dembow echoed the need for a longer discussion as well, stating it’s premature to talk about it during SmokeTree’s statement of direction conversation.
Mr. Bien-Willner noted that maximizing public comment through alternative measures isn’t specific to SmokeTree, but the idea should be in place for any project going to a public hearing during the pandemic.
Councilwoman Anna Thomasson, later in the meeting, pointed out the Planning Commisson’s deadline of Sept. 15 stating the noticing of the event would occur in August, while many residents are out of town or not focused on town matters.
“We weight public noticing in August with the possibility of pushing the date back, which adds more burden to the applicant. The applicant has been part of this process for several years now, so we completely want to be fair with them, as do I. I just wanted to bring up the point that we would have public noticing in an off-season,” Ms. Thomasson said, asking her colleagues if it makes sense to push that date back.
Mr. Bien-Willner said he hears and shares her concern, but there is a priority to be efficient.
“I think the reason why we’re doing this on our last meeting is to make sure we have the ability, I know our staff has worked very hard, and we’ve worked hard to get this set up to go to the commission over the summer,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.
“We’ve talked about coming up with a plan for public participation in light of COVID-19 and allowing folks to have input. Allowing for that to take place in an orderly and fair way for everybody, including the applicant. If the proposal is to have some flexibility on the date it comes back to us to allow for input and review that we’ve asked for. I certainly would support that.”
Councilman Mark Stanton supported Ms. Thomasson’s suggestions, saying public input is critical in the next phase.
The group majority decided to change the deadline to Sept. 30, with the knowledge that it can be extended if needed.
Beyond talking about public outreach, the council’s discussion for each area of focus on the SOD was short, and to the point.
Councilmembers offered slight suggestions or ideas about the different focuses, as Community Development Director Jeremy Knapp updated the document in real time.
Later that evening, the council voted unanimously to approve the SOD.