Norton: Consistency in governing? Or chaos and grandstanding?

By Mike Norton
Posted 12/12/19

Set aside for the moment the question of whether you believe SouthBridge Two is a thing of beauty or an assault on historic Old Town.

Instead let’s critique the current integrity levels of …

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Norton: Consistency in governing? Or chaos and grandstanding?


Set aside for the moment the question of whether you believe SouthBridge Two is a thing of beauty or an assault on historic Old Town.

Instead let’s critique the current integrity levels of those governing or wishing to govern Scottsdale.

Phillips and Littlefield would like us to rally behind them to “Save Old Town,” but from whom? The reality of this mess is that Littlefield and Phillips want us to rally to save Old Town from Littlefield and Phillips.

It’s really hard to buy in to their seemingly feigned outrage when you consider that they helped launch SB2. Starting a fire so you can put out a fire just to gain attention is the wrong way to run a city. Creating a crisis so you can solve it during an election year is even worse.

The history of hypocrisy: After failing to get voter approval for a General Plan amendment, City Council amended or adopted a series of plans for select portions of Scottsdale.

The Downtown Plan of 2009 was amended to become the Old Town Scottsdale Character Area Plan through actions started in 2017 and concluded July 2018 after six months of community input.

The development of the OTS Character Area Plan was hardly a secret. It moved through City Council during the period of the greatest grass roots advocacy campaign in Scottsdale history. The NoDDC/Protect Our Preserve groups were as hyper-focused on City Council as possible.

Indeed, if one scrolls back through the social media during that period, there was constant chatter about height, density and this very OTS Character Area Plan. At that same time that Prop. 420 advocates were a driving force, Bob Littlefield, Kathy Littlefield, Bob Pejman and Guy Phillips were frequent contributors and commenters on the NoDDC page.

How hard would it have been to say “It’s time for a referendum – we must save Old Town Scottsdale”?

It wouldn’t have been hard at all for Littlefield and Phillips to fire up the troops to go gather more signatures --- except for one tiny little issue --- Kathy Littlefield and Guy Phillips had just voted to approve the OTS Character Area Plan.

They were part of the 7-0 unanimous vote. Ooops.

Why did the OTS Character Area Plan make sense? Why allow more height and density? Quite simply because the existing plan was spitting out one cookie-cutter, ugly, 65-apartment-per-acre cube after another. Sticks and plywood buildings that were boring at best and repulsive at worst, but incredibly profitable for those who knocked them out, filled them up, and flipped them.

Enormous profits were to be had by repeating that ugly process. I hated it. So did others. You can drive around Scottsdale and quickly find a dozen of those max cubed-out shoved-to-the-sidewalk stucco-flanked beasts.

Varying heights made more sense for a reason. Going higher on some buildings and lower on others provides similar profits to developers while providing space between buildings for public access and pedestrian friendly street level activity. Steel, concrete and glass with aesthetic grace replaced boring plywood cubes.

Was the Old Town Scottsdale Character Area Plan perfect? Nope. It needed more detail. To that purpose, city staff, the Design Review Board and City Council worked hard to develop the Old Town Scottsdale Urban Design & Architectural Guidelines.

From 2018 through May of 2019, these guidelines evolved into a 106-page effort --- which at pages 80 through 87 specifically define the vision of Scottsdale for the Canal Area District.

Anyone who takes the time to check those guidelines comes away saying, “Gee, that looks an awful lot like SouthBridge 2, doesn’t it?” And the answer is “of course it does.”

Carter Unger followed those guidelines closely. He wanted to comply. That’s how he rolls.

Where was Littlefield’s, Phillips’, and Whitehead’s outrage in May 2019 when these guidelines were approved? And even more specifically, if truly outraged by those guidelines, why has Councilmember Whitehead not moved to amend them?

After all, she is now the City Council representative to the Development Review Board. Is that not the governing body that should consider changing the OTS Character Area Plan and its Guidelines? Yes, of course it is.

When we make rules we follow the rules. If we don’t like the result of our own rules, we seek input and amend them --- we don’t defy them. But that’s what is now going on --- again --- governing by chaos instead of governing by consent.

Throughout 2018 and this year to date, the city has approved high rise construction near Fashion Square, over the top of the old Don & Charlies, at Museum Square and the infamous Marquee.

Where was the outrage when those projects were approved --- primarily by out of state and even international developers? Where were the petitions for voter referendums?

So why the outrage over SouthBridge 2? Isn’t it almost exactly what the Architectural Guidelines and Canal Development plan call for? Isn’t it being built by a second generation locally owned developer with a superb history of putting up quality projects?

Why the outrage over SB2 when other seemingly far worse projects escaped the outrage of Whitehead, Littlefield, Phillips and the petition drafters?

It’s an election year. That’s the difference.

The hypocrisy of those who are now outraged is shining through. They sat on their hands or voted “yes” to each of the actions that led to the SB2 project.

They gushed over Museum Square while feigning outrage over SouthBridge 2.

Governing-by-grandstanding seems to be the order of the day but I’m not buying that. Governing through respect for the process instills faith in government. Governing through hypocrisy and grandstanding does the opposite.

If voters truly are outraged by the SouthBridge 2 project, elect someone to replace Guy Phillips. And Kathy Littlefield. It was their work that launched SB2. They are at fault. They’re not saviors, they’re saboteurs.

Where was the outrage when they voted “yes” to the very plan that launched SB2?

Editor’s Note: Mike Norton is a longtime Scottsdale resident.