Paradise Valley councilwomen hold steadfast to community values

Posted 7/17/19

From left are Paradise Valley Councilwomen: Julie Pace, Ellen Andeen and Anna Thomasson who collectively look to keep the rich residential legacy of the Town of Paradise Valley alive and …

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Paradise Valley councilwomen hold steadfast to community values

From left are Paradise Valley Councilwomen: Julie Pace, Ellen Andeen and Anna Thomasson who collectively look to keep the rich residential legacy of the Town of Paradise Valley alive and well in the 21st Century. (File photos)

The Town of Paradise Valley is on the precipice of what developer dreams may become as municipal leaders weigh the cost and benefits of luxury housing, multifamily and resort development inching toward fruition.

In all, there are eight special use permit projects making their way through various cogs of the Paradise Valley municipal process, Community Development Director Jeremy Knapp said.

In Paradise Valley, zoning is relatively simple with the large majority of the 16 square miles containing single-family residences whereas SUP guidelines govern commercial operations --- places like resorts and medical facilities --- within town limits.

Records show approximately 38 active SUP properties within town limits.

Mr. Knapp said the eight SUP applications at various stages of development included major resort development and re-development efforts along with commercial facilities coupled with housing efforts and the reconstruction of Cherokee Elementary School.

Paradise Valley Community Development Director Jeremy Knapp. (File photo)

“The Five Star Development project is under construction on several aspects including infrastructure, single-family residential, hotel casitas, underground parking garages and resort villas,” he said of the 100-acre resort development behemoth.

“Shea Homes is developing Area B of the Five Star Development project, which is 66 single-family residences. There are nine homes that have been issued building permits for construction.”

Scottsdale-based Five Star Development, which prominent developer Jerry Ayoub founded, is bringing the Paradise Valley Ritz-Carlton development proposal forward.

“Smoke Tree Resort is requesting a major amendment to its special use permit for a new 120-room resort with 30 for-sale residential units, 15 lock-off units, as well as accessory uses,” Mr. Knapp outlined. “This project received a recommendation for denial from the Planning Commission and is before the Town Council for consideration, which will resume after the council’s summer break.”

--- Jeremy Knapp, Paradise Valley community development director

In 2018, the legacy Smoke Tree Resort property, 7101 E. Lincoln Drive, changed hands for a reported $10 million and new ownership is eying a new chapter for the boutique resort.

The original resort, which was established in 1966 and maintained in perpetuity, is under the guise of a partnership between Phoenix-based Geneva Holdings and Scottsdale-based Ventana Hotels and Resorts.

Mr. Knapp says in March 2019 the Valley Presbyterian Church, 6947 E. McDonald Drive, received Planning Commission approval to construct a minor expansion.

Earlier this summer, Town Council moved forward with a new medical facility, Mr. Knapp explains.

“In May of 2019, the Town Council approved an intermediate special use permit amendment for Paradise Valley Medical Office at the southwest corner of Jackrabbit Road and Scottsdale Road for a new medical office building totaling 9,837 square feet, new parking canopies, new site signage, and additional landscaping,” he explained of the project.

Beloved Paradise Valley landmark --- the Hermosa Inn at 5532 N. Palo Cristi Road --- is seeking a minor amendment to its SUP in an effort to reconfigure buildings and the creation of a new restroom facility, Mr. Knapp said.

Other notable projects in town include:

  • The Ironwood Golf Villas, which received approval for a final plat for an eight-lot subdivision on Scottsdale Road at the Northern Avenue alignment.
  • The Mountain Shadows Resort received approval for a standalone commercial building at the southwest corner of 56th Street and Lincoln Drive as part of a prior SUP approval.
  • Resort owners have also submitted plans to construct a 5,000-square-foot restaurant per the approved SUP.
A concept image of what a revitalized SmokeTree Resort in the Town of Paradise Valley might look like. (Submitted graphic)

A woman’s perspective

Atop Paradise Valley government are the elected leaders of the community --- the current configuration features four men and three women.
A councilmember serves a four-year term while the figurehead of the community, the mayor --- which is Jerry Bien-Willner --- serves a 24-month term.

Each of the women elected to serve the town agree the Five Star Development is project is the No. 1 construction project in town history. Each are keeping a keen eye on development, they say.

“The land has never been developed in the history of Paradise Valley and --- as you can imagine --- impacts many,” said Councilwoman Ellen Andeen.

Paradise Valley Councilwoman Ellen Andeen (File photo)

“We are in the process of working with Five Star along with improving and redesigning roadways to accommodate for the increase in traffic at the entry point of our town. I am especially concerned about a proposed 90-foot building along with a 150-foot spire to be situated on the Scottsdale side. I am looking forward to a successful Ritz property.”

Councilwoman Anna Thomasson echoes a similar sentiment regarding the scope and significance of the pending Five Star project.

“With a reported $2 billion value, the Five Star (Ritz-Carlton) development of over 125 acres --- 105 acres in Paradise Valley and 20 in Scottsdale --- is the largest development in our town’s history, and, by its very nature, complicated,” she said.

Ms. Thomasson offers insights into the parameters of what is being built.

“In Paradise Valley, 95 (of the 105) acres have been planned and plotted, including approximately 200 hotel rooms and another 250 condos, luxury villas, townhomes, and single-family homes,” she explained.

“The remaining 30-acre section, The Palmeraie, spanning both Paradise Valley and Scottsdale, is slated to have luxury retail, restaurants, condos and another hotel. Details have not been finalized. Working with Five Star and our good neighbor, Scottsdale to manage all the increased traffic and keep this 30-acre section of the development in harmony with our Paradise Valley values will be critical and I will make sure we protect the interests of Paradise Valley residents.”

Paradise Valley Councilwoman Anna Thomasson. (File photo)

For Councilwoman Julie Pace, the Five Star project is a point of an inherited focus.

“Only one councilmember is left today on council who voted for this project and development agreement,” she said. “We expect and are optimistic the leadership at Five Star will carry this project through to success.”

Furthermore, Ms. Pace explains the sheer magnitude of effect the project will have on the region.

“The Five Star Development of 100 acres including the Ritz-Carlton is a major development for Paradise Valley,” she said.

“It involves traffic, safety, pedestrian crosswalks, roundabouts, density, a variety of many residences, movement of people, design, landscape, redesign of roads, impact on surrounding one house per acre homes, shopping, revenue, elegance and activity and something we hope to be very proud of and enjoy when it is done.”

The Ritz-Carlton Residences Paradise Valley are being brought to market by Scottsdale-based Five Star Development. (File photo)

Community roots sprout conservancy

For Councilwoman Andeen, Paradise Valley has --- and always will be --- home, a notion she holds dear.

“I grew up here and spent much time riding my horse around the east side of Paradise Valley, but eventually ended up moving the horses to Cave Creek due to the increase in traffic, housing and population,” she said.

“Of course, population growth is expected, but I worry about preservation of the unique character and quality that I grew up with here in the Town of Paradise Valley.”

Ms. Andeen knows first-hand what the previous generations were in pursuit of.

A view of an entryway into the Town of Paradise Valley. (File photo)

“The people who settled in this town had a vision of a quiet, tranquil, low density, residential community,”she said. “They protected that vision by codifying one-home-per-acre zoning. This council, almost in entirety, is committed to defending those values.”

Councilwoman Thomasson contends Paradise Valley is a quiet, residential community and she aims to keep it that way.

“Our very quality of life rooted in our quiet, residential neighborhoods is at-risk,” she explained.

“Incorporated in 1961 to protect residents from the encroachment of development from adjoining Scottsdale and Phoenix, our founders fought mightily to preserve the semi-rural, residential lifestyle they loved.”

High density development is not a fit for the municipality, Ms. Thomasson says.

“As we discuss development in our town, we need to remember that our resorts and medical centers generate $20 million in annual revenue, allowing us to remain property tax free,” she said.

“But we cannot allow the current economics of plentiful investment capital to lure us into permitting high-density development that will threaten the very character of our residential community with more noise, obstructed views and more traffic on our quiet streets.”

Councilwoman Pace, a vocal and dedicated member of Town Council, says she will hold the Paradise Valley line.

Paradise Valley Councilwoman Julie Pace. (File photo)

“We can lose or degrade the quality of life that Paradise Valley has worked so hard to maintain,” she pointed out. “Post-recession development has caused increased pressure on building to setback lines, eliminating open space, covering up natural washes, building higher and more massive structures, covering up the mountain and ridge lines and views, increasing flooding and drainage issues, and increasing safety risks.”

Responsible development is the name of the game for Councilwoman Pace, she says.

“Responsible construction and development is key,” she said. “We need leaders and developers who are focused on development that enhances and supports the town’s values and built within the town’s code and is not being done with the sole goal of making the most money someone can on a piece of property.”

Medical malaise simmers

Councilwoman Pace is steadfast in her assertion medical marijuana should not be sold within town limits.

“We need to watch what Lincoln Medical Center wants to do as it was proposing an increase in retail traffic through selling of medical marijuana in Paradise Valley,” she said. “This would involve a large volume of quick-turn retail transactions that deals primarily in cash so this would not be the best location for that increase in intensity of traffic.”

Aside from the substance itself, Ms. Pace worries about how much traffic Lincoln and Scottsdale roads can ultimately take.

A graphic sketch of how the Lincoln Medical Plaza could look following redevelopment of the site. (Submitted graphic)

“Traffic engineers have reported to the town the intersection at Lincoln and Scottsdale road is expected to go from 13,000 to 21,000 vehicles in less than five years, so we need to be cautious about any new retail or expanded traffic count at this location,” she said.

“We also need to be cautious about intensity of use at that location as it could require a significant increase in costs if the Town has to add the hiring of a additional police patrol because of the density increase at Scottsdale and Lincoln roads.”

Councilwoman Andeen shares the stance on medical marijuana being sold within town limits.

“Having a medical marijuana facility situated at the entrance of our town concerns me given that it is a heavy-traffic-type business and we are already concerned about the increase in traffic in that area,” she said.

Councilwoman Thomasson offers insight into the dollars and cents at play.

“With a lot of money comes a lot of pressure to increase density of our medical centers and resorts,” she points out. “In the last 18 months we have had requests from three medical centers and three resorts for additional development. Your current council has stood strong against these requests for increased density and shared our views with the property owners.”

--- Anna Thomasson, Paradise Valley councilwoman

Those stances have spoken volumes, Ms. Thomasson contends.

“Since January, redevelopment projects for the Sanctuary Resort, Lincoln Medical Plaza and just recently, Mountain View Medical Plaza have been withdrawn by the owners,” she explained.

“Additionally, the Planning Commission recommended denial of the Smoketree Resort redevelopment and our council shared consistent, strong feedback opposing the proposed condos as well as the substantially increased density and reduced setbacks. Your council has also recently voiced opposition to a pharmacy selling Schedule I and II narcotics and the establishment of a high-volume retail operation.”

But what’s really at stake?

Each elected leader interviewed says, in one way or another, the “paradise” in Paradise Valley is what’s at stake regarding the potential for new and exciting luxury development.

“Although our revenue is largely driven by tourism and hospitality, our recent fiscal stress tests and 2020 financial forecasts are not signaling the need for new or higher density development for additional revenue to support our operations,” Ms. Thomasson explained.

In September 2018, Paradise Valley Town Council hosted a public hearing on the myriad commercial development projects moving through the municipal process. (File photo)

“We have faced many threats to our quiet, residential lifestyle in our almost 60-year history. I believe these current redevelopment projects will be fairly and thoughtfully considered by our capable Planning Commission and dedicated council as we adhere to our 2012 vision…”

Preserve and protect Paradise Valley was more than an election slogan for Councilwoman Andeen.

“I ran on a platform of preserve and protect,” she said. “So, when you ask: What is at stake? It is that which makes Paradise Valley unique.”

Ms. Andeen says so much, so fast has left some residents wary of new development pitches.

“I believe there is development fatigue by our residents,” she said.

“I thank the developers for investing in our town, but I will continue to protect our low density. I also ask our former mayors and council members to continue to be involved. I am thankful to former Mayor LeMarr for his recent visit to address concerns and provide input to the council regarding condominium development.”

Councilwoman Andeen says compromise is attainable at Town Hall.

“I do believe we have some properties that could use some revitalization and will help support that as best I can,” she said.

“This council will be the author of the upcoming new General Plan which will span the subsequent 10 years. Paradise Valley will need a strong Planning Commission, Hillside Committee and Council dedicated to preserving and protecting our Town values, history and zoning ordinances --- that is the future of Paradise Valley.”

Councilwoman Pace says Paradise Valley is paradise not by accident.

“We can lose or degrade the quality of life that Paradise Valley has worked so hard to maintain,” she said. “Post-recession development has caused increased pressure on building to setback lines, eliminating open space, covering up natural washes, building higher and more massive structures, covering up the mountain and ridge lines and views, increasing flooding and drainage issues, and increasing safety risks.”

--- Julie Pace, Paradise Valley councilwoman

Paradise Valley is a special place free from many of the stalwarts of 20th Century technology, Ms. Pace says.

“We need to keep the paradise in Paradise Valley,” she said.

“We have much to be proud of with no utility lines cluttering the skies, no commercial development, no Town property taxes, low density one acre per house residences throughout the majority of our community, and the renewed commitment of a majority of Council, led by Mayor Bien-Willner, to protect our beautiful iconic mountains so that everyone can celebrate and enjoy them for decades to come.”