Scottsdale City Council approves initiation of DC Ranch park planning

The City Hall Kiva was packed during the Tuesday, April 25 city council meeting with Scottsdale residents, many of whom were there to show their support for a potential park/athletic field on a 12.8-acre site on the corner of Pima Road and Union Hills Drive. (photo by Josh Martinez)

Scottsdale City Council has given its blessing for city staff to begin initial steps to develop a municipal use master site plan on a 12.8-acre plot of land eyed to be a school’s new athletic fields.

Residents both supporting and opposing the plan filed into Scottsdale City Hall Tuesday, April 25, to hear if the city would venture down a road partnering with Great Hearts Academies, the parent company of two Scottsdale schools.

The 12.8-acre, city-owned plot has been the center for public dispute leading up to the meeting, resulting in the circulation of two petitions. The item was first slated to be on the April 4 city council consent agenda until it was pulled by Scottsdale City Manager Jim Thompson at the last minute due to what city officials cite as a request for additional input.

The lot is in north Scottsdale between Pima Road to the west, and 94th Street to the east, and between Union Hills Drive to the north and Bell Road to the south. The land was a part of a package of land parcels DC Ranch dedicated to the city years ago.

The open field of undeveloped land was first identified by the city of Scottsdale to be developed into a neighborhood park that fell victim to the pitfall of the Great Recession.

Now, a local school has stepped forward with a request to build their new athletic facility on the land, aiming to be the newest neighbor and amenity for Scottsdale’s northern community, DC Ranch.

Scottsdale Preparatory, 16537 N. 92nd Street, is a public charter school seeking to offer its students an athletic facility complete with a football field, track & field facilities along with sand volleyball and tennis courts.

This new facility would provide amenities to the students of the school who have been without since opening 10 years ago.

Already in the works

Ultimately, Scottsdale’s elected officials voted 6-1 — with Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield dissenting — to begin planning conversations.

Although voting in favor of beginning the conversation, many council members voiced concern over certain aspects of the item that they would be looking for in future hearings, or areas that would be deal-breakers, before voting.

Many public comment speakers and council members addressed a transgender policy Great Hearts Academies initiated — an area many say the school would need to change before entering into an agreement with the city.

“This is just a decision whether conversations begins on this,” Mayor Jim Lane said at the onset of the public hearing. “Only to explore and initiate this process.”

In 2000, the city voters passed a bond for parks and recreation projects, which included creating a neighborhood park at this DC Ranch location, according to Bill Murphy, city of Scottsdale community services executive director.

The potential land deal became the focus of conversation at a March 15 Parks and Recreation Commission public hearing.

“As the budget process moved forward and as the economy went down in 2007, we really delayed any of our park planning at that point,” Mr. Murphy explained at the March 15 Parks and Recreation meeting. “So that sat for upwards of 20 years.”

Fast forward to 2016, Great Hearts Academies purchased land adjacent to the trailside plot, at 91st Street and Palo Brea, for the development of athletic facilities. In December 2016, the DC Ranch Community Association and Great Hearts representatives met with Scottsdale’s community services department to discuss the possibility of joint use of the neighborhood park, according to the April 4 city council report.

Great Hearts would now like to forgo development of their land, and rather fund the development of the park site, including park and athletic amenities for the school and the public, city officials say.

Many residents in favor of a potential park/athletic field on a 12.8-acre site on the corner of Pima Road and Union Hills Drive donned green stickers saying “Yes! City Park” during the Tuesday, April 25 city council meeting. (photo by Josh Martinez)

Neighbors band together

Over 400 DC Ranch residents opposing the project have signed their name to a petition in less than one week, resident Dina Hudson said in an April 24 phone interview.

“We feel like we’re citizens of Scottsdale and we should be heard,” Ms. Hudson explained of the situation. “All the neighborhoods in DC Ranch have now slowly become informed, and as they do they understand how terrible this plan would be.”

Some of the issues identified by opposing residents include noise, lighting, traffic, safety concerns, land deeds and the overall impact on the neighborhood.

Initial plans show the athletic facility would include a full size football field where soccer and lacrosse could be played; bleachers or other seating option; a parking lot; and tennis courts that could also serve as pickleball courts.

“It just doesn’t fit in what would be in a neighborhood at all. It’s not appropriate,” she said. Additionally, Ms. Hudson and residents who spoke during public comment at the city council meeting pointed to plentiful parks within the neighborhood already.

“All neighborhoods around here are nicely constructed with their own park, we have three parks for 165 houses.”

Ms. Hudson says a small volunteer group within DC Ranch called the community council has been communicating with the school. However, the neighbors don’t feel represented in those conversations.

“Hundreds upon hundreds of residents feel that small group of people who have been invited to the table to talk do not represent the needs or desires, or the majority, of the neighbors,” she said.

Of the people who spoke at the city council meeting, many offered an alternative suggestion or positive attitude towards working together to find a resolution that would make every party happy.

Tommy Andrews, one Scottsdale resident who voiced his opinion, said he enthusiastically supported launching the initiative.

“I think this is a beautiful example of how different groups can come together and collaborate to create good news for all the constitutes involved,” Mr. Andrews said at the podium. “I hope we’re able to start this process and have it be a low impact, but high utility and very purposeful.”

Jordan Rose, of Rose Law Group — who represents Great Hearts Academies — said the school first approached the city about their fields because it might be a better fit for their plans, than the three acres Great Hearts owns.

Jordan Rose

“We started that conversation, and just want to continue to work with the community today,” Ms. Rose explained.

She said any potential user of the park, including Scottsdale Prep, would have an agreement with the city for the usage.

“Great Hearts will pay the proportional share of maintenance associated with school use and the city will control all park use,” she said, noting Great Hearts has privately raised $4.5 million to build the funds.

“All other critical park details are to be determined through discussion with city staff — the details are not there — this is the meeting if you decide if we can move forward,” Ms. Rose said.

Council concerns

The elected leaders of Scottsdale voted to move forward with the initiation of the master use plan, with only councilmember Littlefield dissenting.

Prior to the vote, Ms. Littlefield listed a number of reasons she was opposed to the project including the perception of gifting the land, lack of public desire for a park, and the school’s transgender policy.

“We all received emails from DC Ranch citizens saying they don’t want it — well over 200 emails from different people,” Ms. Littlefield said. “So it looks to me, the people who want this are people who live in DC Ranch or nearby areas but have children going to the school and would directly benefit.”

Kathy Littlefield

Ms. Littlefield says she’s been told the school is re-writing its policy regarding transgender students, but noted it will take more than a written policy to change her mind.

“I understand they are re-writing the policy, but several emails show their actions need to change also,” Ms. Littlefield said. “I would want to know we as a city stand behind a policy statement.”

The proposed park’s overall plan is not what was within the neighborhood’s deed given to home owners, Ms. Littlefield said, which was another deciding factor for her.

“After reading DC Ranch’s specialty warranty deed, which I have with me tonight, a school athletic complex is not the same thing as a quiet community park,” Ms. Littlefield explained. “The athletic field is still the request for this park tonight, officially or unofficially.”

Councilwoman Virginia Korte says, to her, this vote signifies a new process to have a public conversation.

“This can be a conversation around creating a public amenity that does not exist today,” she said.

Mayor Lane said he supports having the conversation with the community members about the athletic fields, and he also agreed with the other members of council, stating he sees why there is opposition.

“I’d say there certainly are valid reasons to oppose it,” Mayor Lane said. “Whether it’s traffic or lights or other concerns.”

Mayor Lane also touched on the various topics brought up throughout the meeting, coining them peripheral issues, such as IGA’s with Scottsdale Unified School District, and the topic of gifting the land.

“One thing that’s been presented here that I would say that if it were true in the final analysis, I wouldn’t support this either — the gifting of this,” he said. “And in initial conversations, it’s not something the city is looking to maintain, much less build out.”

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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