Good intentions or bad?
Three separate issues – all tied to one main issue.
(1) Canal Micro-Parklets,
(2) the Kimsey Project and Triangle Building and
(3) The General Plan and Prop 207
In discussions with City Council members about a project in north Scottsdale (the Park at 91st Street that will serve as a water transmission center), we were told that there were no funds for anything other than bare bones park attributes. No one likes that answer, but the city does have a huge “to-do list” and the bond funds don’t have the 91st Street Park on that list.
So I was surprised to read that Mayor Ortega suggests that the city somehow had money to take on a different non-bond funded park project — some micro-parklets along the canal. We were even more surprised to learn that the micro-parklets would be on small strips of land that are wedged between private landowners and the canal right of way.
Everyone wants a beautiful canal parkway. That’s a given. That includes the private landowners who now use the small strips of land as alleys serving the ugly back sides of the old buildings on the north side of 5th Avenue.
Here’s a win/win/win solution. Sit with those landowners (there’s only one — it won’t be hard to find him). Identify the highest quality construction project that we can jointly envision and support.
Give the landowner some incentive to develop the widest canalside open spaces possible, then sell the land with those covenants attached and let the developer spend the money to finish improving the north side of the canal.
Scottsdale turns unusable dirt into cash from the sale proceeds. Scottsdale helps create a fabulous canal way destination venue. Scottsdale gets to collect much higher property taxes forever. Scottsdale gets more sales tax from those who spend when they come to the events. And Scottsdale doesn’t have to dig into our non-existent Capital Improvement Fund for the projects not covered by the 2019 bonds.
If Mayor Ortega and our City Council pulled that off we would all give them a standing ovation.
But that’s not where Scottsdale is headed. And let’s be blunt here. From where we sit this doesn’t look like it’s about land and micro-parklets. It’s more about grudges.
Without saying he wants to make it as hard as possible for Carter Unger to complete a project on the land he already owns, Mayor Ortega will do precisely that.
In between the cool part of Old Town and the arts district to the south, sits a parcel of roughly five acres where you find buildings ranging from mediocre and mundane to worn out and ugly. There is nothing artsy, quaint or appealing between Third Avenue and Indian School unless you find two story Howard Johnson Motor Lodges appealing.
With one exception — a Ralph Haver designed building that once served as City Hall. Most of us call it the “Triangle Building.” It is one piece of retro-cool in an otherwise ugly section of downtown. But not for long. The land is about to be redeveloped.
Thanks to some great work by Christie Lee Kinchen and the rest of her Commission, the developer owning the land including the Triangle Building agreed to make some massive concessions to protect the Haver building and preserve it forever.
The entire project will become a link between the best parts of Old Town and the Arts District to the south — a link that has been needed for a long time for both districts’ long term success.
Because the structures were originally planned to spread across the triangle building (a large percentage of the land footprint), the developer now seeks to go up in some places to make up for the surface area set aside for historical preservation. Eight stories is exactly the same height as the hotel that sits directly across Scottsdale Road.
Eight stories is also far shorter than the Museum Square development already approved to the southwest of this project. Allowing the developer to go up to the same height as the Marriott on a fraction of the land is a great trade-off when we save the historic triangle building.
Let’s remember the developer didn’t have to save that Haver building and originally their plan called for bulldozers — not preservation. Let’s also remember that if the deal Commissioner Kinchen worked out isn’t approved with some height, the triangle building will become bulldozer fodder once again.
Despite the logic of approving this project and despite 6-1 approval coming out of Planning Commission, the “no-growth” fangs of some City Council members are starting to pop out.
Would they seriously deny eight stories on part of the land and then stand by to watch as the triangle building get bulldozed? Seriously? Is that where this city is headed? We’ll soon know.
Some of our City Council envision a general plan that is more like a project-killing space laser. A rule so strict that it zaps projects out of existence before they can even get started.
While that might appeal to their anti-growth voter base, they forget about Prop 207. (Not the legal weed prop — the property owners’ rights prop).
If we take away any currently existing development rights, landowners are entitled to sue for damages for the diminution of value. A quick series of phone calls to a few of the best-known zoning attorneys in the county confirmed that litigation not only “might result” but absolutely will result if the worst fears of landowners’ are confirmed.
As incredibly valuable as Scottsdale land is right now, an over-restrictive general plan will break the Scottsdale bank when forced to pay all the landowners whose rights were damaged.
It is bad policy to turn the general plan into an overarching legal mandate let alone prohibition. Overarching legal mandates belong in the Charter, not the general plan.
Each of these three issues can be turned into a positive moment for Scottsdale.
We hope Mayor Ortega and the majority of our City Council come to see opportunities where they now seem to see reasons to start legal fights.
Editor’s Note: Mike Norton is a longtime Scottsdale resident and CEO of Athena Foundation Scottsdale. Larry Kush is also a longtime Scottsdale resident, and former chair of the Scottsdale Planning Commission.