Whitehead: Go time for Scottsdale general plan

Posted 2/15/21

It’s go time for the general plan in Scottsdale.

Last week the City Council made fundamental changes to better reflect community values and protect our city’s character, quality of …

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Whitehead: Go time for Scottsdale general plan


It’s go time for the general plan in Scottsdale.

Last week the City Council made fundamental changes to better reflect community values and protect our city’s character, quality of life, and open spaces. The GP drives all downstream ordinances and policies including zoning, transportation, and open space protection.

With clarity, the general plan can discourage inappropriate development proposals which saves staff time, tax dollars, and limits legal exposure. A well-defined GP also tilts the playing field in favor of the highest quality proposals thereby increasing Scottsdale’s value.

Character, and Land Use

Two sections of the general plan play an outsized role on the city’s ability to achieve its goals particularly pertaining to development. Those sections are found in Chapter 1: Character & Design and Land Use.

The balance of the GP defines the city’s goals and policies. However, success in the latter sections hinges on clear definitions and specificity in these first two sections. In short, these sections are crucial and many of my requested changes were in these two areas.

Recommended changes: What & why

Words matter. As stated above, a well written general plan will save tax dollars and protect Scottsdale’s qualify of life.

Last week, the City Council focused on the vision and the character and land use sections. Based on council majority input, a new vision statement is being drafted.

Other updates from this first round of discussions include:

1) Ensure compliance by replacing words and phrases that infer optional and with those that direct compliance. Change “promote”, “is typically” and “encourage” to “should” and “must”.

2) Protect Scottsdale’s unique character, such as historic downtown, with added protections via character area plans.

3) Remove infill incentive districts to promote responsible revitalization requiring all parties to pay their fair share and requiring future IIDs to earn a council supermajority for approval.

4) Adopt a tree canopy plan to increase shade, clean air, and strengthen tree ordinances on both public and private land and a plan for pedestrian connectivity downtown.

5) Expand categories that define high density, which currently includes any property with eight or more units and add specificity on building heights. For example, a 300-unit apartment and an eight-unit townhome community should not share a land use definition.

6) Protect rural and equestrian communities with added zoning protections on larger lots.

7) Create a McDowell Sonoran Preserve land use category defined by the 2018 voter-approved, City Charter amendment and the Preserve Ordinance.

8) Increase open space as Scottsdale’s population grows. The first step is to strengthen the protection of existing open spaces. From parks, to land-for-density swaps, and the city’s natural area open space ordinance, the GP must differentiate these open space categories, limit staff’s ability to override restrictions, and explicitly define land not eligible for development. Lumping land uses together will create development pressures on protected land and open the city up to litigation.

This was the City Council’s first meeting on the GP and more will follow. Voters have not approved a General Plan in 20-years and your voice matters. In the coming weeks, staff will begin hosting virtual meetings to gather resident input.

Editor’s Note: Solange Whitehead is an elected member of Scottsdale City Council.