Scottsdale City Council approves Heights zoning change to General Plan

Applicant John Berry responds to councilmembers’ questions regarding the proposed Scottsdale Heights rezoning during a March council meeting. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Change is coming to north Scottsdale after city council decided to forgo the current commercial zoning of a site at 7225 E. Dove Valley Road, making way for a new urban neighborhood.

In a 5–2 decision, council approved a non-major General Plan Amendment to change 14 of the 15.5-acre site from commercial to urban neighborhood at its Tuesday, March 21 meeting.

Council also approved a zoning district map amendment from business district, environmentally sensitive lands to medium density residential environmentally sensitive lands.

Applicant John Berry presents on the proposed Scottsdale Heights rezoning during a March council meeting. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Council also authorized the abandonment of the eastern 30 feet of a 55-foot-wide roadway easement on the western edge of the property.

Scottsdale zoning attorney John Berry presented on behalf of owner Michael Lieb for the project and said the remaining 1.5 acres on the south end of the site would be developed into a Dick Van Dyke Studio commemorative path, honoring the former Carefree Studios.

Mr. Lieb intends on building 78 one-story homes, no more than 28 feet in height. The project is anticipated to have about 2.9 acres of natural area open space; however, that number includes the entire 15.5 acres, not just the 14 being rezoned.

The density for the community is 5.6 units per acre, which compares to nearby Terravita’s density of 2.2 units per acre and Winfield’s 1.7 units per acre. However, an undeveloped project directly east of the site is slated for a density of 5.4 units per acre.

Mr. Berry said usually, he is asking council for more density, traffic or height.

“Tonight, I’m here asking for less,” Mr. Berry said. “I’m asking for less height, less density and less traffic and there’s opposition here tonight.”

Prior to the vote, several citizens voiced their opposition to the project, saying the project is out of character with the surrounding area. Others wanted to keep the site commercial, saying the area needs more commercial development.

Nearby residents of the project banded together with petitions of opposition, garnering more than 600 signatures on the petitions. There were several, however, who voiced support for the project at the March 21 meeting.

Both councilmembers David Smith and Kathy Littlefield dissented in the opinion, both questioning the need for more residential over commercial, among other concerns.

The dissension

Councilman Smith’s main concern centered around the need for commercial development in the city.

Councilman David Smith

He cited a 2013 land use study that said by 2030, the city would need 144 acres of commercial land to support the residential needs of north Scottsdale and the city had 67 prior to the vote.

“The dilemma will occur down the road,” Mr. Smith said at the March 21 meeting.

“At some point down the road when it turns out everybody does need a grocery store, a barber shop, whatever the facilities might be, we’ll have to find a piece of residential property, grit our teeth and convert it to commercial. It’s not going to be a pretty picture.”

Ms. Littlefield echoed the concern, saying she doesn’t see a need for the development in the area. She also thought there was not a lot of “homework” done on the project and that shows by the conflicting emails she received and the residents’ desire for commercial.

Although her biggest concern was she said it looked like those involved were trying to skirt around the General Plan by using technicalities in size to make the change a non-major amendment.

Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield

“I don’t like that and I don’t think it’s necessary, nor wanted because if we do it for one parcel, for one application, what’s going to stop us from doing it for another?” she said. “We set a precedent and I don’t want to set that precedent.”

Terravita HOA board member Don Buch exemplified this point by showing council what the site is drawn up as —15.5 acres — and what staff presented to council, which was 14 acres.

“The site has never been subdivided as this suggests and why should anyone care?” Mr. Buch said. “Because rezoning a site that exceeds 15 acres as per the county assessor — this is exceeding 15 acres — it requires a two-thirds vote of council where less than 15 acres, only a simple majority would be required.”

A misrepresentation

Originally, the Winfield community stated its support for the project to the Planning Commission in January.

That position has changed as the Greater Pinnacle Peaks Association sent a letter on March 17 to council, requesting letters of support from Winfield HOA President Robert Cappel be retracted and corrected.

“I am sorry I misrepresented GPPA’s position at the Planning Commission hearing on Jan. 25, 2017,” Mr. Cappel said in the March 17 letter. “I was wrong to assume the support of the board (of directors) members. Please delete my letters and statement of GPPA’s Board of Directors support for this project.”

David Gordon, a Winfield resident, claimed there was never a community-wide survey to properly asses the residents’ position.

He continued to say the support was based on a vote by 25 homeowners and an emergency Nov. 22 board meeting that had what he claimed as misinformation regarding the project.

The concurrence

Despite the significant amount of opposition, five council members voted in favor of the project, citing Winfield residents’ support as one of the reasons for the support.

Councilwoman Linda Milhaven

Councilwoman Linda Milhaven said she also thought residential development would be preferable to the surrounding areas, especially in traffic.

“What I’ve learned sitting in this seat is that commercial development creates more car trips than residential,” she said.

“In terms of sensitivity to the area, I think this residential use has far less impact in terms of traffic. Folks may personally see it differently, but I have to rely on the report of the expert and the experience of experts that tell us otherwise.”

Vice Mayor Suzanne Klapp said despite the push for more commercial and the original zoning of the site, past councils did not foresee the recession of 2009 that hit the country.

As a result of the recession, Ms. Klapp said there is a higher vacancy rate in commercial developments than in surrounding areas.

Both councilmembers Virginia Korte and Guy Phillips both said they were surprised by the opposition to the rezoning as they thought residential would better suit the community than commercial, despite a higher density.

“We don’t know what is going to come in the future and, to me, this project is better than what could come,” Mr. Phillips said. “That’s what I was most worried about. So, I’m very shocked to see that people would rather have commercial there.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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