Codes, collaboration and parking define underlying Old Town Scottsdale development tension

HIGH ROLLERS: A cigar butt, a popular accouterment of affluence, lays on the sidewalk of Old Town Scottsdale and serves as an illustration of the chagrin felt by local residents and business owners regarding Old Town appearances. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

The old adage, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” continues to ring true.

On a blistering July day — like countless others before — Scottsdale businessman Larry Kush walks to lunch from his Old Town Scottsdale office, but upon these walks a dirty truth emerges.

On most mornings, the relics of indulgence line the streets of Old Town Scottsdale’s entertainment district and many say for a municipality the caliber of Scottsdale, the sights and sounds of nightly revelry has reached its toll.

The sidewalk along the Old Town entertainment district is laced with the gum, dirt and grime of nightlife. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

“The focus was on the club district because I happen to work down here,” said Mr. Kush while providing a walking tour of what he considers the bar district of Old Town Scottsdale.

“The curbs and sidewalks are disgusting. Cigarette butts everywhere — just generally kind of embarrassing to have an area this dirty. A lot of the business owners in the businesses don’t realize the sidewalks in front off there business are their responsibility.”

Mr. Kush, senior vice president of Orion Investment Real Estate, also serves as a member of the Scottsdale Planning Commission and calls Old Town home.

“Why aren’t we enforcing our codes?” he asked of issues like maintaining clean sidewalks, orderly trash receptacles and the prohibition of using alleyways as makeshift warehouses. “I kind of felt like staff wasn’t walking the area, long story short, we have actually sent out a letter reminding property owners of their responsibilities.”

Regulation of Old Town

The regulation of those Old Town responsibilities falls under the guise of code enforcement and at the helm of that effort is Raun Keagy.

“I have gotten emails from Larry and I did a walk through with him and I actually have a couple of positive emails from him I have kept,” said Mr. Keagy. “It really is a push and pull.”

A view of Old Town Scottsdale, which continues to be the focus of municipal redevelopment musings. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

In several instances, Mr. Keagy and Mr. Kush see eye-to-eye, but enforcement of those code enforcement instances is no easy task, Mr. Keagy explains.

“Storage in the alleys — yes — we have provided notices to several businesses over the last couple of months to remove items stored in the alley,” he said. “Technically, that is against our ordinance, but in some situations there is not a place to put something.”

While Mr. Keagy says no code enforcement department is completely effective, he admits Scottsdale Code Enforcement can and will be doing a better job.

“At any time you can go to the city website and you can see what open complaints we have throughout the city,” he said of an interactive COS map of municipal parcels. “You can zoom in and see what the complaint is and what actions have been taken. In real time you can see what open complaints we have.”

— Raun Keagy, Scottsdale Code Enforcement

Mr. Keagy says, at times, Old Town entertainment district code enforcement is akin to a dog chasing its tail.

“We are always chasing our tails to get them to comply with certain codes, train their employees — this is an ongoing enforcement effort with these folks,” he said.

“But it is not just the entertainment district, it is the entire downtown. Sidewalks have always been a struggle for us. Here is the rub: some of the sidewalks are maintained by the adjacent property owners and some are not.”

Enforcement also falls on the shoulders of municipal leaders, Mr. Keagy says.

Some sidewalks are to be maintained by the adjacent business owner and others by the City of Scottsdale. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

“Some of the sidewalks, it is our responsibility to keep them clean, but can I tell you what each of them are just by looking? No. I rely on our downtown maintenance program,” he said.

“You can look at one area and ask who is responsible for that; some of that we do know and some of it we don’t know. It is not a black-and-white issue.”

Mr. Keagy agrees Mr. Kush has valid points that ought to be addressed.

“I thank him and anyone else who can alert us to issues,” he said. “I want you to report this stuff. Can we do a better job? You bet we can and that’s the promise I made with Larry. It is just trying to stay on these folks and meet the expectations of the community and what the ordinance requirements are as well.”

Mr. Kush agrees positive movement has occurred, but at the end of the day, money talks.

“They wrote a few citations and low and behold things happened,” he pointed out. “I remember telling code enforcement, you need to start writing citations. It’s the threat of a fine that gets their attention.”

Larry Kush

Mr. Kush says he is looking to explore the idea of creating a community group focused on keeping Old Town Scottsdale clean.

“A lot of people have agreed and said this needs to be addressed,” he said. “Maybe we could form a little group and make it our mission to keep Old Town clean. If you have ever been in the neighborhood after a holiday, it looks like a war zone.”

According to Mr. Keagy, there are 26 active code compliance cases open within Old Town Scottsdale bounds.

With no parking, will they come?

City officials contend there are 19,000 parking spaces in Old Town Scottsdale.

Scottsdale Public Information Officer Holly Walter told the Independent earlier this year nearly 20,000 spaces are comprised of public and private areas, as well as on-street space and parking lots. The area in question is generally south of Camelback Road, north of Osborn Road, east of Goldwater Boulevard and west of Miller Road.

“I think there is a lot of concern regarding parking,” Mr. Kush explained of issues he has become aware serving atop the Planning Commission. “If you build something in Old Town you are only required to have one spot per bed. We need to address this ordinance and take a look at it.”

— Larry Kush, Scottsdale resident and planning commissioner

In late June, both Scottsdale City Council and the Planning Commission — a recommending advisory body — asked for a discussion on the topic of Old Town parking.

“At the end of (the) City Council meeting June 26, the City Council voted to agendize a work study session after November on downtown parking strategies,” said Scottsdale Planning Director Tim Curtis. “The Planning Commission has expressed interest, but nothing has been scheduled as of yet.”

But for Mr. Kush, the question isn’t how many parking spots exist, but rather how many are required when new development plans emerge.

“I am hopeful the Planning Commission can come up a solution and proposition,” he said pointing out some development plans are required minimal parking spots in Old Town. “But I do sympathize with the developers as they haven’t done anything wrong. They are playing by the rules.”

Parking issues abound in Old Town Scottsdale, but those issues primarily focus on how many parking spots exist today and how many will be created as new development comes online. (file photo)

Mr. Kush opines the parking requirements established were formed during times of economic downturn.

“Land in Old Town Scottsdale has gotten so expensive that a developer coming in to justify the high land price they have to jam so many units into the lot. The result? No parking,” he said.

“It is just simple economics, but these developers are following the rules. We need to fix the rules so they play by the rules. Right now, the rules are making it difficult — making it difficult for the residents and the business owners of the area.”

Parking requirements are a complicated matter in Old Town Scottsdale, Mr. Curtis contends.

“Parking gets more complicated with the various credits from improvement districts, in-lieu parking requests, etc, for various properties,” he said point out parking requirements are nuanced and governed by Sec. 9.103 of the Scottsdale zoning code.

According to city code, Scottsdale parking rules seek to accomplish:

  • Provide parking facilities which serve the goal of a comprehensive circulation system throughout the community;
  • Provide parking, city-wide that will improve pedestrian circulation, reduce traffic congestion and improve the character and functionality of all developments;
  • Promote the free flow of traffic in the streets;
  • Encourage the use of bicycles and other alternative transportation modes;
  • Design and situate parking facilities so as to ensure their usefulness;
  • Provide an adequate number of on-site bicycle parking facilities, each with a level of security, convenience, safety, access, and durability;
  • Provide for adequate parking at transfer centers and selected transit stops in order to encourage the use of mass transit;
  • Ensure the appropriate development of parking areas throughout the city; and
  • Mitigate potential adverse impacts upon land uses adjacent to parking facilities.

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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