North Scottsdale zoning case is perplexing predicament

Scottsdale City Hall is at 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. in downtown Scottsdale. (File photo)

A proposed self-storage unit threatening to disrupt quality of life in north Scottsdale — an issue garnering the attention and sentiment of local officials and residents alike — is continuing to be a battle, homeowner Vickie Falen says.

Ms. Falen and her husband Dana both publicly stated their opposition to a proposed self-storage unit along Shea Boulevard in October 2017 when the application sought a major General Plan amendment to change the plot’s zoning classification.

More than 40 years ago, on the night Dana proposed to Vickie, Mr. Falen was in an auto accident that left him a paraplegic. Watching the sun go down, however, is a bright spot in Mr. Falen’s life and his favorite thing to do, the couple says.

In October, the Falens and other neighbors within the Montana Ranch community opposed the building, but the Falens’ story appeared to have emotionally moved members of the Planning Commission at the time.

Ultimately, the General Plan amendment was approved Nov. 8, 2017, by a 4-3 vote, after the applicant agreed to a reduced height of 18 feet.

The three dissenting votes were Commissioners Prescott Smith, Ali Fakih and Kelsey Young.

He said, she said

Months later, Ms. Falen says the storyline of the self-storage building has her scratching her head. The application most recently visited Scottsdale’s Development Review Board on May 3 to discuss landscaping.

Vickie Falen

The topic of issue appears to be a disagreement on which trees should be used to block the neighborhood from the two-story, self-storage unit, a viewing deck to be built on private property and the boarder wall between residential and commercial land.

According to Ms. Falen, she feels the rights of a property owner are being diminished, as decisions about trees promised to her and her neighbors are out of their hands and in the purview of the city’s planning department.

Additionally, Mayor Jim Lane and Ms. Falen have been working together to see promises offered to the Falen family come to fruition, both parties say. According to Mayor Lane, Ms. Falen asked him to reach out to the developers on her behalf, to see that private, non-application-included promises made last fall would come to fruition.

George Bell Sr. is out of town currently, which has slightly halted the conversation of building a viewing deck on the Falen’s property, both Ms. Falen and Mr. Lane say.

“The mayor called again yesterday, he pretty much said that George Bell and that group decided that they’re not going to do anything — it’s just the way it is,” Ms. Falen said on May 9, explaining that the decision was based on supposed-threats.

Mayor Lane, however, says he hasn’t felt any negative feelings from the homeowners.

“I don’t want to do he-said, she-said — I was asked on her behalf to work with the developer on these issues,” Mr. Lane said.

Ms. Falen says she believes they were promised “massive, screening mature trees to block the entire building from our view.” She has sought the opinions of Arizona tree experts, including master gardeners, a Maricopa County Extension Horticulturalist and the University of Arizona Arboretum.

“Rose Law and the Bell’s and their architect came in our backyard several times to do an artist rendering of the promised trees, at least 18-22’ at planting, so they will grow even more in size and mass after planting that size,” Ms. Falen said in an April email to the Independent.

The General Plan amendment sought a land-use designation change from “rural neighborhoods” to “commercial” on 2.8 acres of a 4.6-acre site on the southeast corner of Shea Boulevard and 116th Street. The change from neighborhoods to commercial warrant a taller wall, Ms. Falen says.

“It’s so weird — I don’t understand this process at all,” Ms. Falen said. “I thought they’d listen, and take action. It’s basically whatever Jordan Rose put on that piece of paper. That’s really disturbing to me.”

Dana Falen enjoys watching the sunset every evening from his backyard. (submitted photo)

Trees, fences and decks, oh my!

Ms. Falen and her next door neighbor visited the Bell’s architect, Michelle Hassler in December, and says they have also invited Ms. Rose to their homes to see the types of trees desired. However, when the plans made their way through the city’s planning department a new type of tree was designated.

“So Michelle and the Bells agreed we can have Italian Pine trees… Basically it’s all we asked for,” Ms. Falen said. “When the project went to Bryan Cluff, he took them (the pine trees) out and put in his lop-sided Desert Willows.”

During the May 3 meeting, Mr. Cluff presented the application to the Development Review Board. Board member Joe Young also spoke on the matter, but Ms. Falen found his comments questionable.

“The city may want to look up the definition of arboretum instead of taking the word of a person making a living as a landscape architect,” Ms. Falen said in a May 5 email to the Independent.

“The city sought out DRB member Joe Young who does landscaping for clients including storage facilities. His body of work online shows only small specimen trees and sparse landscaping and no projects show large mature tree projects for screening two-story buildings.”

Ms. Falen said she forwarded the expert opinions to the city, which she believes were ignored. Additionally, she says she is starting to feel like she’s being retaliated against.

In her emails and phone calls with the Independent, Ms. Falen touched on feelings of sour grapes. She says the two groups should be working on the issues, not fighting about personalities.

“It really looks like the city is picking inappropriate trees to get back at the neighbors of challenging the major General (Plan) zoning change,” she said. “In my opinion, they selected the dirtiest, messiest, lopsided, non-screening tree. I can’t think of a worse choice.”

When questioned on the topic, Ms. Rose said over the phone that she wasn’t at the Development Review Board meeting on May 3. Specific questions on the issues with the Falens and the Bells were better-suited to be answered by Mr. Cluff, she said in a May 9 emailed response to questions.

There are three things that Ms. Falen would like to see happen:

  • Mass trees to block and screen the building;
  • A joint wall raised eight feet; and
  • The viewing deck.

“Mr. George Bell Sr. met with us at the lot with a group of homeowners,” Ms. Falen said of the viewing deck offer. “He came to me and said ‘I want to do something nice for your husband, I want him to get him a viewing deck so he can see the sunsets.’”

Ms. Falen says now confusion surrounding the deed restrictions seems to be halting the creation of the viewing deck, while the city says that request is out of its purview.

“The deed restriction we were given is if they built a storage facility, it was never tied to ‘if you agree with us, then we’ll do it,’” she said.

“So it wasn’t me begging for something, it was him saying I want to do this as a nice gesture.”

For the viewing deck, city officials say they have zero authority over that project.

“The view deck is not within the purview of what the city can require or enforce with this type of application,” Mr. Cluff said in a May 10 emailed response to questions.

“I am not privy to any promises made on the private side. Any items outside the city scope would need to have been handled through a private agreement.”

Mr. Cluff says per DRB’s approval on May 3, there will be a line of 30 mature trees along the eastern property line adjacent to the neighbors existing wall.

“The tree species will include a combination of Willow Acacia and Southern Live Oak,” Mr. Cluff said.

When asked if the Bells felt threatened by the neighbors, and thus ending their negotiations, Mr. Cluff said he didn’t know.

“This is beyond the purview of discussion city staff has with the applicant/property owner,” he said.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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