A new mixed-use community coined “District at the Quarter” including over 600 rental apartments will be moving forward after a 4-3 vote by the Scottsdale City Council on Monday, Nov. 14.
The council adopted a non-major General Plan amendment and approved a Planned Unit Development district for a 662-unit residential and mixed-use community at its regular meeting, held at Scottsdale City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
The vote passed 4-3 with Vice Mayor Kathy Littlefield and councilmembers David Smith and Guy Phillips dissenting.
The action item required the council to amend the 2001 General Plan Land Use designation from employment–regional use to mixed-use neighborhoods–regional use.
Situated about 3,000 feet northwest of the Scottsdale Airport runway, the Airport Advisory Commission recommended on Sept. 21, approval with a vote of 7-0 following additional conditions: the proposed residential units remain rental products, and if the units are ever converted to an owner occupied product the proposal shall return to the Airport Advisory Commission; and additional sounds attenuation shall be added in conformance with the recommendations of the Scottsdale Airport Noise Compatibility Study.
The proposed project is to be on a 10.29-acre site at 15501 N. 73rd Street and 15450 N. Greenway-Hayden Loop, where there is a call center that would be demolished, according to Scottsdale Senior Planner Bryan Cluff.
The site plans include two four-story buildings totaling 581,509 square feet of residential area, and 22,025 square feet of non-residential commercial space.
The non-residential uses are to include a restaurant, fitness center, club house and small offices, according to Mr. Cluff, that will all be open to the public.
Additionally, there are to be seven units that will offer live/work space.
The city of Scottsdale General Plan 2001 Land Use Element designates the property as a growth area within the greater Airpark. Growth areas are parts of the community that accommodates future growth through transportation system and infrastructure improvements and are intended as a focus area for new development.
The site is zoned industrial park district, intended to allow for light manufacturing, aeronautical, light industrial, office, and supportive to sustain uses.
In June 2009, the city council approved a newly-created planned unit development zoning district that would promote a mixed-use development pattern along major and minor streets located outside the environmentally sensitive lands overlay, and the downtown area boundary.
The purpose of the request for a zoning district map amendment from industrial park to PUD is to take advantage of development opportunities, afforded by the PUD zoning district, which are not provided in the industrial park district, according to the city council report.
“For example, the existing I-1 (industrial park) zoning designation allows most office uses, aviation uses, and very limited retail and service uses, but prohibits any residential uses,” the council report states. “The requested PUD zoning designation allows all the uses that are allowed in the commercial office and planned regional center zoning district, allowing for more development flexibility.”
Surrounding properties include an array of office, aviation, retail, service and residential, according to project applicant Paul Gilbert.
“It must say 10 or 15 times in your greater Airpark plan, you need to promote live, work and play,” he said to the city council on Nov. 14. “There’s work but there’s not an opportunity for people to live there and that’s what we bring and why we’re so in complete conformance with the Airpark plan.”
The Development Review Board examined the proposed zoning district map amendment at their Oct. 6 hearing and voted 5-0 to make a favorable recommendation to the Planning Commission.
On Oct. 19, the Planning Commission recommended approval with a 7-0 vote.
Councilman Smith questioned the reasoning as to why the development was considered a non-major General Plan amendment, when its criteria fits major General Plan amendment provisions.
Arizona state statute defines a major amendment as a proposal that results in a substantial alteration of the municipality’s land use mixture or balance, established in the city’s General Plan land use element. Each city is required to establish its own criteria for what is or is not a major General Plan amendment.
In addition, the amendment process involves a review and notification process, and requires two separate Planning Commission hearings before going to the city council for final approval or denial and must pass with a two-thirds majority vote.
All major plan amendments must be presented at a single public hearing, while non-major plan amendments can be submitted and processed at any time during the year.
General Plan amendments that do not meet the criteria to be a major amendment do not require the additional Planning Commission hearing, and require a simple majority of the vote of the city council for approval.
“The second criteria looked at it in terms of if something is a major General Plan amendment in the area of the change criteria, and it says for this location of the city a change in land use that is 10 or more gross acres in size could be considered as a major General Plan amendment,” he said.
“Where does the ‘could be’ come from? I thought the General Plan just said if it’s 10 or more acres it is a General Plan amendment.”
Scottsdale Zoning Administrator Randy Grant explained it was his decision to consider the plan non-major.
“We had a healthy discussion about that 10-acre threshold and quite honestly it was my decision that because such a significant amount of the adjacent property was in the right-of-way, which characterizes —- if only one street frontage was on that same parcel it would be well within the 10-acres,” explained Mr. Grant.
“But because of kind of the unusually large right-of-ways on two sides of the property, I felt that the spirit of the General Plan criteria was being met and if it was to be applied differently I believe it would treat this property differently than other similar properties that didn’t have so much street frontage and were essentially burdened with that.”
Councilman Smith grappled with the reasoning behind the decision.
“When I’m looking at the General Plan and it says a land use change that includes anything 10-acres or more, I didn’t — I’m not sure it gives us, much less staff, the authority to say I’m going to cut them some slack here,” said Councilman Smith.
Mr. Grant said the parcel size itself is just under 9 acres, and it is the right-of-way — the road — that is increasing the total mass acreage to be over the 10-acre threshold.
“I find along with Councilman Smith, it’s a little bit odd that we can just change the criteria at our will to do a project that the people want to do or — and not stand with the General Plan definitions,” Vice Mayor Littlefield said while explaining her position on the item.
“I find that difficult to believe.”
Vice Mayor Littlefield agreed with Councilman Smith that only councilmembers should be determining what is a major General Plan amendment or not.
“I’m getting the impression that this project is kind of like a square peg being forced into a round hole. It says it’s not a major General Plan amendment, but it is, as far as land use is concerned,” she explained.
“It says it’s a PUD mixed use project, but it’s really residential with services that the residents who live in it would possibly be using. So it’s forced to fit, they looked for something that would make it fit but it really doesn’t fit.”
A hot market
The market for apartments in Scottsdale is certainly there, Mr. Gilbert pointed out.
“I can tell you that the new Crescent apartments have been phenomenally successful and they are very close to full capacity. I believe the Liv, which is across the street from us is in the 90s in its capacity, so I think this vindicates there is a market for this,” said Mr. Gilbert.
“The fact that a developer is willing to spend the money and go forward means that the market is there and we wouldn’t have gone to all this trouble if we didn’t have this confidence.”
Councilwoman Virginia Korte expressed support for the project, even citing that her dogs will probably enjoy the proposed dog spa that was being pitched during the meeting.
“I think this is a project that steps up to what our Scottsdale cache is,” she said.
“That question of apartment over-saturation, that is the question, and I do not pretend to be a land use expert and I never will be. I do believe that if an investor and a developer is willing to invest millions of dollars into a project than they understand what that market is, and you have to rely on that.”
Councilwoman Linda Milhaven cited nearby apartment complex, Crescent Scottsdale Quarter, that was offering a 600-square-foot apartment for $1,300 per month.
“What that says to me is that folks who are moving into these apartments are not lowering the socioeconomical average of our community,” she said. “They’re raising it.”
Those who are renting out these apartments are likely spending their money in other areas of the town, contributing to sales tax, in addition to the taxes they pay on the apartment, contended Councilwoman Milhaven.
“Lastly, I would have to disagree that it is not up to us to decide whether this is a major or minor General Plan amendment that the rules are clear, and that we have staff and attorneys who make sure we follow the rules that our citizens approved and voted on,” she said.