Paradise Valley hillside code update tabled on heels of citizen complaint

Posted 4/29/20

Paradise Valley town leaders will continue discussion on a minor update to its Town Code after a resident alleges conflict of interest with those involved.

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Paradise Valley hillside code update tabled on heels of citizen complaint


Editor's Note: This story has been updated to further clarify Mr. Scali's accusations and to include reference to a May 1 email where he further clarified his remarks.

Paradise Valley town leaders will continue discussion on a minor update to its Town Code after a resident alleges conflict of interest with those involved.

The Town Council was poised to vote at its April 23 meeting on an ordinance that would’ve taken the contents of the Hillside Safety Improvement Measure and Process manual and placed them in the Town Code. The ordinance would’ve also allowed the town engineer to set the amount of required insurance and the requirement of insurance on demolition projects.

Paradise Valley resident Terry Scali commented during the meeting, appearing to accuse Vice Mayor Julie Pace, councilmember Scott Moore and Hillside Building Committee member Scott Tonn, all of whom worked to craft the ordinance, of conflicts of interests.

 Ms. Pace and Mr. Moore, and later via email Mr. Tonn, denied the allegations and Town Attorney Andrew Miller clarified he didn’t believe either councilmember had a conflict interest because the changes would affect over 10 properties, the limit state statutes set as part of its definition of conflict of interests.

Still, the Town Council adjourned to executive session after the public comments and later unanimously voted to continue the item.

The Town Council originally adopted an ordinance in 2018 allowing for a change to Article V of the Town Code, implementing the Hillside Safety Improvement Measures and Process manual.

This manual, which included new safety regulations, was separate from Town Code but acted as the guide for hillside developments. When approved, town officials treated it like it was part of the Town Code.

What the ordinance planned to do was to take the content of the manual and place it directly into the Town Code with minimal changes. Both Mr. Moore and Ms. Pace, whom worked on the initial manual, helped provide textual clarity on the ordinance.

The ordinance also did away with the requirement of $5 million in insurance for hillside project, citing the diversity in projects in size and scope. Town Engineer Paul Mood suggested the town set the amount based on the anticipated impacts.

The ordinance also would’ve required insurance for demolitions of hillside homes and structures. Town staff claimed this was necessary because of the potential safety risks such as dislodging of boulders, loose soils, blockage of drainageways and other unforeseen challenges.

Another resident spoke in support of the update, citing his support of the safety measures.

Allegations and response

Mr. Scali’s comments centered on his worry of no cap on how much the town can require through insurance. He says he had been trying to develop his property since 2012 but claimed to be in legal disputes with individuals involved in the hillside code update.

Mr. Scali further claimed Mr. Tonn said he would fight all development on Mr. Scali’s property.

“He approached me in 2015,” Mr. Scali said during the meeting.
“I didn’t know who he was. He asked to meet with me. I met with him. He threatened me. He told me he was part of a group. I would never build on my lot. He and that group would stop me at all costs. That’s the citizen representative you have on the Hillside Committee.”

He also voiced concerns of increased lawsuits regarding Arizona Proposition 207, which requires governments to reimburse land owners when new regulations decrease their land value.

Mr. Scali wrapped up his comments with his assertion Ms. Pace and Mr. Tonn should not be part of this procedure since, he claimed, they are part of a lawsuit against him.

“I have conflict with at least two of the members involved in this process,” he said. “They have an agenda. It’s personal. As far as I can tell, I am the only lot available to build on above two councilmembers and this committee member for hillside that have driven this agenda. There needs to be limits put on costs that an applicant might suffer. It cannot be unlimited.”

Mr. Scali said what he wanted was the recusal of at least two from the group of Mr. Moore, Ms. Pace and Mr. Tonn, the involvement of lot owners that have “all citizen’s interests” in mind and the tabling of the vote.

In a May 1 email to the Independent, Mr. Scali said while he did mention Mr. Moore, he said he "did not say that he was necessarily conflicted."

"I don't know him and don't know what he thinks about my property nor my development rights," he said.

Mr. Tonn denied being part of any lawsuit against Mr. Scali, calling his accusations unfortunate and a means to further enhance his personal agenda.

Mr. Miller clarified when a proposed measure potentially might affect councilmembers, as residents or otherwise, but that councilmember is part of a group of 10 or more parties, state statute doesn’t define that as a conflict of interest.

“The impetus for this ordinance was a number of different properties coming in for development, not just Mr. Scali’s but we had many others,” he said.

“We have some on Upper Glen Drive where there’s just loose rocks and soils that are out there. A prior town manager came in and said ‘boy, we’re getting lots of concern about these lots.’ The reason why is because the lots that are now getting developed are some of the harder, steeper, tougher lots to develop.”

Mr. Miller also noted the prior manual had safety regulations and the idea behind the proposed ordinance was to put all the regulations into one place. He also said this ordinance didn’t add much except for the insurance and demolition requirements.

After the executive session, both Ms. Pace and Mr. Moore spoke to Mr. Scali’s comments, denying any vendettas or legal disputes with him.

Ms. Pace said she believes Mr. Scali brought a narrow perspective to the issue because of his experiences with others. She denied knowing Mr. Scali and said she believes she’s spoken to him once prior.

Ms. Pace said safety has helped shape her efforts as a councilmember and in other roles with the town. In regards to the code update, she said she got involved because of resident complaints before Mr. Scali’s development project.

She emphasized that she is not anti-development but wants to see responsible construction. Her work on the update, Ms. Pace said, is for all hillside residents and not one plot.

“There’s a concern there to be accused that this entire process, that has already been in place for two or three years, is something that’s done for one person is just unfortunately not correct,” she said.

“Unfortunately for Mr. Scali, he has gone down a path where he thinks tonight it might be. It has more to do with the 14,000 residents we have and one of the town’s foundational goals must be for safety.”

As for Mr. Tonn, the two met once, he claimed, to see if Mr. Scali would sell his lot to place it in the Mummy Mountain Trust. Mr. Tonn said Mr. Scali set a high price but also indicated he likely wouldn’t sell and the two didn’t speak again.

As Mr. Tonn received an interview for his first term on the Hillside Building Committee in 2017, Mr. Scali alleged a conflict of interest, which councilmembers decided wasn’t an issue, Mr. Tonn said.

Mr. Tonn, who recently began his second term, said the conflict of interest claim did not include Mr. Scali’s recent allegation of Mr. Tonn threatening him.

“The reason this concern was not raised before is because it never happened,” Mr. Tonn said via email. “I never threatened Mr. Scali.”

Mr. Moore also responded to Mr. Scali’s comments, saying he appreciated his comments but denied being part of any lawsuit against Mr. Scali. He claimed he spoke to Mr. Scali only once before, prior to his election to the council.

“I just want to make it clear so we all know, as a resident, I am obligated to follow all those rules and procedures myself,” he said. “There isn’t anything out there that has been proposed that puts undue burden on anyone that doesn’t put it on me as well.”

Hillside land and regulation

The Town of Paradise Valley sees Camelback Mountain, Mummy Mountain and the Phoenix Mountains as “valuable scenic resources” that shape the town’s identity and character, according to Town Code. Because of this mindset, the town places “unique standards” for properties on these lands, their foothills and other areas over a 10% slope.

The Town uses Article XXII to regulate this area of the town, focusing on the intensity of development; preserving and protecting hillside environments; providing safety for residents and the town; and establishing rules and procedures for review from the Hillside Building Committee.

The five-person Hillside Building Committee is a Town Code compliance review committee that reviews construction applications for adherence to the Hillside Code. As part of its review, it focuses on land disturbance, heights, lighting, building materials, grading, drainage and other hillside issues.

The committee includes two citizen volunteers and three rotating planning commissioners. Hugo Vasquez serves as the town staff liaison.