Old Town Scottsdale development framework updates in the works

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

Scottsdale City Council is expected to consider formal action on new downtown development parameters for Old Town Scottsdale Monday, July 2.

A June 6 study session eying proposed changes in the plan included introducing new types of development — type 2.5 and type 3 — to identify existing areas where the highest scale development can occur in Old Town.

City officials presented an update to the 2009 Downtown Plan to Scottsdale’s elected leaders, seeking feedback and discussion prior to formal action later this summer. The study session took place at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

The plan update also has a companion text amendment to implement changes. Planning, Neighborhood and Transportation Manager Erin Perreault says the majority of changes are around land use.

“First off we’re not proposing to change any of the types of land uses that you can have in downtown, or the location of those land uses, so those will remain the same,” Ms. Perreault said.

City officials say, overall, the proposed changes include:

  • Aligning the plan with other city plans that have been reviewed or adopted;
  • Updating maps and graphics; and
  • Providing clear, understandable and direct goals and policies.

“I like looking at this entire area as one unified piece that should all fit together and blend together,” Scottsdale Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield said of the plan.

“I think one of the biggest problems Scottsdale (has) had in the past is we’ve piece-mealed too many properties and they don’t match. I think this is an opportunity and an attempt to fix that problem, and I think it’s very well done.”

Scottsdale operates under the 2009 Downtown Plan, which was a 25-year update to a 1984 downtown plan, according to Ms. Perreault.

Ms. Perreault says halfway through a plan’s shelf life, which is 10 years, staff assesses the plan for relevance and viability.

“We’ve also been working to not only assess the 2009 plan, but also provide updated plan content for you to consider,” Ms. Perrault said.

“We’re working with a number of different departments throughout the city, also look to see if any content that has been adopted since 2009 was implemented.”

Ms. Perrault noted the Downtown 2.0 plan that has been in the works, and presented to council last fall.

“The good news item coming out of implementation from 2009 is the vast majority of things we wanted to implement under plan have been completed,” Ms. Perrault said.

“Council initiated this process in January of this year. We met with a number of boards and commissions, help open houses with the community, also had direct presentations and discussions with all of the different community groups.”

A view of the Scottsdale Waterfront that continues to be the keystone to new commercial and residential development in south Scottsdale. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Downtown development mix

Councilman David Smith feared agreeing to amended height regulations within the downtown area, prior to knowing what could be built on the plats of land.

The type 2.5 development could include intermediate, higher-scale development on approximately 10 acres in the downtown area, a city staff report states. Type 3 development is the highest scale development to be considered, allowing up to 150 feet in structure height.

David Smith (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Ms. Perreault says public open space is a priority to maintain in the downtown area.

“Looking at the plan update, and talking to different people in downtown — first off, I referred to the downtown 2.0 tourism recommendations that came out last November — it really recommended more feet on the street,” she explained.

“So, in looking at that, more height could accommodate more feet on the street to support the tourism uses and tourism recommendations that came out of the plan, so that was one consideration.”

City staff didn’t want maximum height all over the downtown area, so they’ve been strategically looking at where it makes the most sense as a public benefit, Ms. Perreault noted.

“I’m stuck back on the land-use mixture,” Mr. Smith said. “I think my reaction is, if I approve those other areas, I’m giving away what might be a strategic bargaining chip. A new developer can come and say ‘I’d love to do a project,’ but if I’ve already written this down and already have this as an allowed use, I don’t have a bargaining tool.

I’m reluctant to approve this for areas where I have not yet met with a developer or bargained with them about what they want to do, and what concessions they might need.”

Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield aligned with Mr. Smith, noting there’s a lot of potential height to be given away.

“I’m concerned about the new category of 2.5, to 120 feet from 90 feet, just because it’s a new category I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense,” Ms. Littlefield said. “Hotels along the canal would go from 90 feet currently to 150 feet, and we all know if they could they would. Again, that’s a lot of height we’re giving away to people and we don’t even know what the benefit is going to be.”

Ms. Littlefield did like putting a boundary around the entertainment district, and gave direction on other items in the list such as bicycles, transportation and public art.

Kathy Littlefield. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“One of the things I don’t want to see is an entertainment district, such as we have to the south of Scottsdale Road, come and join us in the north, and that is non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned,” Ms. Littlefield said.

“That is something we don’t want to spread around.”

Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp says she would like to see added shade in downtown Scottsdale, noting that she’s heard from others that more shade is needed.

“I would like to see as much as possible emphasis on shade and trees,” she said. “For example, there’s one section that says public art will be required on private development. I’d like to see a line that says trees are required as well.”

Ultimately, Mr. Smith made a motion to bring back the downtown plan on July 2, with type 3 development north of the canal, around the medical campus and only expanded to the Loloma site. Ms. Littlefield seconded the motion, which failed 2-5.

Vice Mayor Guy Phillips made a motion to direct staff to bring back on July 2 the downtown plan recommendations as presented.

Councilwoman Virginia Korte seconded the motion, which carried 5-2, with Ms. Littlefield and Mr. Smith dissenting.

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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