A majority of Scottsdale City Council voted in favor of a planned residential neighborhood coined, “Fiesta Ranch,” despite a vocal opposition from residents, setting in-motion plans for a 227-lot development.
On Jan. 21, the City Council voted 5-2 to approve a zoning district map amendment on a 273-acre site in north Scottsdale. The two dissenting votes were councilwomen Solange Whitehead and Kathy Littlefield.
The applicant’s request is to rezone the parcel of land for a master-planned community of 227 lots on 273 acres. The request increases existing allowed density, provides 46.2 acres for open space, and allows for 109.3 acres of natural area open space.
Owned by Wildcat Ridge LLC, and presented by prominent zoning attorney John Berry, Fiesta Ranch is a development by lauded developer Lyle Anderson, who reportedly has produced award-winning communities Desert Highlands and Desert Mountain.
Despite publicized accolades, several Scottsdale residents voiced opposition to Fiesta Ranch during the City Council meeting and hundreds of emails were received. Numerous emails in opposition to the project are attached to the item’s staff report online.
Ms. Whitehead and Ms. Littlefield said they didn’t receive any communication in support of the project.
However, the majority of council believed Fiesta Ranch will be a good project overall, a benefit for the community and a project that makes better use of the property.
Fiesta Ranch is located on the south side of east Rio Verde Drive, east of 136th Street, and borders mostly single-family homes on 1-acre Maricopa County land.
Following a Dec. 11 Planning Commission meeting where the project was unanimously recommended, the site plan was reduced from 260 to 227 lots.
Opposition of the project echoed concerns of increased density, changes in zoning, cost to taxpayers and infrastructure needs.
Mr. Berry argued that in order to help preserve the pristine lands of northern Scottsdale --- a master-planned community would assist that.
“Many Scottsdale residents share a common goal --- that goal is to preserve the Sonoran Desert that we treasure,” Mr. Berry said. “Other than spending taxpayer dollars to buy it, which we’ve done, the best way and most effective way to do that is to encourage master-planned communities.”
Mr. Anderson is an individual with a proven track record of master planned communities, Mr. Berry said, describing him as a “visionary.”
“This is another showcased Lyle Anderson project that demonstrates how to environmentally, sensitively design in our precious Sonoran Desert,” Mr. Berry said during his presentation to council.
Mr. Berry pointed out that Fiesta Ranch’s density is calculated to be .83 units per acre, meanwhile neighboring developments range from .96 units-per-acre to 1.5 units-per-acre.
Additionally, a preserved desert boundary is provided around the development border, which Mr. Berry calls “belt-and-suspender buffers.”
“Around every side adjacent to the county we put in a preserved desert boundary. In some instances, it’s 1,500 feet deep. After that buffer of natural preserve desert, there is R-143 zoning beyond that --- belt and suspenders --- open space to R-143 zoning,” he said. “Now, Lyle’s site plan for Fiesta Ranch incorporates all of those techniques he used at Desert Highlands and Desert Mountain, and were incorporated into our environmentally sensitive lands ordinance.”
Betty Janik was one of several members of the public who voiced their opposition to the project. She was representing the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale during her testimony, reading aloud information provided by long-time Scottsdale resident Howard Myer.
Ms. Janik has announced plans to run for Scottsdale City Council this coming November.
Pointing out the land was zoned in 2001, Ms. Janik asked why change the designation.
“What has changed in those 19 years? Why is now OK to change the zoning that you promised everybody would remain intact?” she asked.
“This was done after thought, negotiation and outreach. It also considered the history of the parcel. What went on back then should not be ignored and dismissed, because a lot of valuable input went into this decision.”
The 2001 General Plan guidelines were a topic amongst residents and councilmembers, questioning the merit of such a guideline if elected officials frequently overrule the plan.
“We continue to forget about the General Plan, it is a vision of us, the citizens. And what happens? It gets voted down repeatedly,” Ms. Janik said.
“Further, there’s no development plan. Where the areas zoned R-43 and R-18, so at any time if the property is flipped we can see more density, with more than 309 homes. That clearly violates the General Plan and impacts all the surrounding properties.”
Ms. Janik says the development is not a break-even deal, as infrastructure such as water pumps, are not in place and taxpayers will be the ones burden with that cost.
“John Berry gave a beautiful presentation; the best way to develop the desert is to have a planned community --- I disagree 100% --- the best way to do it, is to leave it as it is, as the city promised to leave it,” Ms. Janik said. “It may be a wonderful plan, but it’s not a plan the citizens want.”
Ms. Whitehead and Ms. Littlefield both agreed with Ms. Janik that this plan was not what residents wanted.
“Zoning changes should be considered only when an applicant demonstrates a quantifiable and equal public benefit with community support --- we lack that --- and a justifiable need. None of that is true in this case,” Ms. Whitehead said.
“Why would anyone want to invest in Scottsdale if they know, and we prove, that the zoning we have in place is not worth the paper it’s printed on?”
During Ms. Littlefield’s comments, she said the decision is not about Mr. Anderson, it’s about representing the people of Scottsdale.
“I have heard, in no small terms ‘you don’t want it.’ OK, I won’t vote for it,” Ms. Littlefield said. “If you don’t represent citizens up here, there’s really not much point in being up here. I feel sorry --- I know Mr. Anderson is a good developer, he’s a good guy. This is not about a particular developer, it’s not about a particular lawyer, it’s not about a particular email.
“It’s about the overall comprehensive results that I have seen. And talking to people --- they call me at home --- this is important to them, and it’s important to me.”
Members of council who supported the project appeared to be in favor of what the community represented, versus an unknown outcome if the project was denied.
In addition to the “stellar” reputation of Mr. Anderson, Councilmember Virginia Korte pointed to the preservation of the Sonoran Desert she believes will be achieved through Fiesta Ranch.
“If we left this property and we didn’t approve this zoning, with the current General Plan designation, the developer could build 273 dwelling units. This development calls for 227,” Ms. Korte said. “To me, this proposal reduces the number of homes by 46; it increases the open space by 80 acres --- and that’s where the value of our community is, the increase in preserving our open space in the desert within this area.”
Councilman Guy Phillips pointed to the little amount of available acreage left in the city to be built upon and how to best utilize that space.
“We only have 3,000 acres left, it’s either private property or state land --- this land will be developed. So, what we want to do is make sure that it is developed in the best possible use,” Mr. Phillips said. “I believe this rezoning makes a better possible use of this property than what is in the 2001 zoning; I think that is what Mr. Lyle Anderson is trying to achieve here.”
Mr. Phillips explained that if he voted no on the project, it would be because it’s an election year and he is running for re-election; or if he votes “yes,” citizens would say he is not “one of them.”
“I can vote ‘no,’ but in my heart, I’d be a coward,” he said. “I think this is good --- I think this rezoning makes the best use of this property. I have to vote with my heart. I can’t be a coward and vote no just so I get reelected. If that’s the way it’s going to be, then so be it.”
Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp also provided short remarks, stating her support for the project.
“It’s a good project, it is consistent with the General Plan, it provides a beautiful plan for the area and as was mentioned it will be developed anyway. So let’s put a good development in with a great developer into that area,” she said.
“It is a great project, in my personal opinion when I first saw it months ago to when I heard about it recently --- there weren’t very many comments about this project until over the weekend when we were flooded with emails. I understand the feelings of the people that are here, I’ve read the emails, but we are elected here to represent the entire city. The whole 250,000 residents that live here expect for us to consider good economic development in Scottsdale that will help keep our taxes low.”