Town committees shed light on topics top of mind for Paradise Valley

Posted 1/2/20

Paradise Valley’s municipal volunteer committee members, which arguably could be considered a backbone of the community, gave its elected officials a rundown of happenings in each of their …

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Town committees shed light on topics top of mind for Paradise Valley

Planning Commission Chair Jonathan Wainwright
Planning Commission Chair Jonathan Wainwright
(File photo)

Paradise Valley’s municipal volunteer committee members, which arguably could be considered a backbone of the community, gave its elected officials a rundown of happenings in each of their respective groups.

In early December, the Paradise Valley Town Council heard presentations from the chairmen of its three volunteer groups --- Historical Preservation Committee, Board of Adjustment and Planning Commission --- relating to updates, issues and topics of each group.

Overall, there doesn’t appear to be any red flags coming from the three groups. One topic of interest is how to handle solar panels on residential roofs --- something the Town Council says they will discuss at an upcoming retreat.

Meanwhile, Planning Commission Chair Jonathan Wainwright anticipates town houses of worship seeking changes in the coming years as religious routines change with the times.

The historical committee is also preparing to celebrate the town’s 60th anniversary in 2021.

The Historical Advisory Committee began in 1997, advising the Town Council on matters pertaining to establishing and maintaining an archival record of Paradise Valley’s history. The committee compiles and archives historical records and produces appropriate literature to commemorate the town’s major anniversary dates. Chairman Catherine Kauffman was first appointed to the group in 1997.

The Board of Adjustment is a group of seven council-appointed residents who hear variance requests and appeals of zoning code interpretations from the zoning administrator. For variance requests, the board may grant variances from, and exceptions to, the strict application of the zoning ordinance if a hardship exists as specified in state statutes and the Town Code.

The Planning Commission is a group of seven council-appointed residents who provide recommendations on a wide array of land-use issues including subdivision plats, lot splits, zoning ordinance amendments, special use permits and general plan amendments. The Planning Commission is also the primary entity responsible for long-term, comprehensive planning and often acts as the advisory committee on long-term plans.

“We’re very grateful for our volunteer groups, and this is a very important portion of the meeting because it lets us know how our committees are doing, and also what kind of support they need,” Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner said at the onset of the presentations.

“And as we look at volunteer appointments for positions, what direction the council may wish to take with that.”

Historical Advisory Committee

Ms. Kauffman says the committee added three oral histories to its repertoire this year: JoAnn Handley, Ron Clarke, and Nellie Ulloa. The committee’s oral history program interviews notable people within the community with a historical perspective.

Earlier this year, the committee began a historic property recognition program, which is still in its infancy, Ms. Kauffman says, noting they have received two applications they are still reviewing.

“We would like to encourage any town resident that owns a home or property older than 50 years old to apply. It’s our goal to showcase those homes with who’s exteriors have not changed from the time they were originally built,” Ms. Kauffman said.

In the spring of 2021, the town will celebrate its 60th anniversary. The historical committee is working on a celebration event to honor the occasion, Ms. Kauffman says, and in talks with the town’s resorts to host the event.

In 2011, the 50th anniversary was at the Western Village at Camelback Inn; the committee is in talks with the Camelback Inn to host the upcoming event as well. Ms. Kauffman said the general manager has proposed the date of May 22, 2021 with a pledge of $7,500 to cover labor costs. However, a Sunday afternoon in April is preferable, Ms. Kauffman said, and if a date and time can not be agreed upon, the committee will look at other venues.

Ms. Kauffman says there is some need for further direction from town leaders when it comes to requests from the community.

“While I feel that as a committee we get support from the council and staff, I believe that we could use a clear direction from the council especially when it concerns town residents approaching the committee to take on their own pet projects,” Ms. Kauffman said.

“Sometimes I am not sure how to handle these individuals because I neither know them, nor their connection to the town. While I like the autonomy the committee has, I’m not sure if there’s a protocol to how the committee should reply to the requests.”

Board of Adjustment

Eric Leibsohn, chair of Board of Adjustment, has been serving on the board for eight years. This is his second year serving as chair and Mr. Leibsohn says he is proud of the work his board does for the town.

“So far this year, we had a total of eight applications,” Mr. Leibsohn said at the December meeting.

“Which was a little bit higher than normal years. There were six approvals, and two denials; four of the properties were hillside, and four were non-hillside properties.”

Mr. Leibsohn said there’s been some informal discussion at recent meetings of consideration of Town Code text changes to enable the Hillside Committee to determine if or when screening of solar panels are needed.

“The way the current ordinance is written is that from a lower elevation the solar panels can not be visible on a roof unless there’s proper screening,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of cases, they were both hillside properties. So there’s been discussion on whether some of these issues would be considered by the Hillside Committee prior to coming to the Board of Adjustment for a variance.”

Both cases dealing with solar panels were approved, Mr. Leibsohn said, because the board felt the properties were not presenting a visual impact on the surrounding areas.

Secondly, there is ongoing discussions about the acknowledgment of the variance process on hillside properties.

“Good questions that you’ve raised,” Mr. Bien-Willner said. “We’re having a development retreat soon to ventilate some of these issues.”

The council was limited on how much they could discuss amending Town Code during the public meeting --- due to open meeting law --- as the topic was not on the publicized agenda.

“You’ve been doing a great job. The Board of Adjustment is one of the key --- I would say, control and balance for the town --- what the town values,” Councilwoman Julie Pace said.

“I think people expect more than any other committee in some of these variance issues that do arise.”

Planning Commission

Mr. Wainwright says the state of the group is “absolutely excellent.”

“This council and previous councils also, have made some great appointments with good diversity, hark work ethic and also done a wonderful job of hiring staff,” Mr. Wainwright said at the onset of his presentation.

Mr. Wainwright pointed out how the landscape of projects the Planning Commission looks at has escalated in recent years from million-dollar projects to now, multi-billion dollar projects.

“I think we can all take a lot of pride in how well we’ve made that adjustment --- [it] certainly wasn’t easy, and I think we’ve done awfully well,” he said.

In the past year, the Planning Commission has reviewed a variety of applications including minor, intermediate and major special use permit amendments, preliminary and final plats, lot splits and conditional use permits.

Although, Mr. Wainwright points to houses of worship being the next big item in coming years.

“Churches and synagogues, we’ve spent a certain amount of time with,” he said.

“Most of the attention in the next few years is going to be coming for the old, mainstream Protestant churches that are in town. Nationally, we’ve seen a tremendous drop in membership; drop in membership means a drop in attendance; drop in attendance means drop in fundraising, frankly.”

Councilman Mark Stanton noted the amount of hours the Planning Commission puts in to review the applications at Town Hall.

“The hours your team puts in are remarkable, and often maybe unappreciated by the bigger picture,” Mr. Stanton said. “It’s so important and so vital to how we look at the quality of life in town.”