Alexander: 1 request for electronic signs could enact city-wide zoning change

Scottsdale Quarter is asking the city for permission to install two 100-square-foot electronic signs on its arterial streets.

You can see the ordinance change here, under case 1-TA-2019.

Jason Alexander

The proposed change does not limit electronic signs to the Scottsdale Quarter. They could be allowed across much more of the city, as a result of this one request.

The Quarter thinks it will be good for business, and more attractive for tenants. They have lost tenants and sales across the street to Kierland in Phoenix, and are trying to compete. These are excellent points to consider for supporting business expansion.

Scottsdale needs retail sales taxes. If electronic signs provide a significant boost to our city’s tax base, it’s smart to consider the idea.

However, Scottsdale has an existing sign ordinance that prevents any electronic signs. This is based on our last General Plan. The citizens have made it clear that electronic signs are not wanted.

The proposal for the Quarter requires a city-wide zoning change allowing electronic signs at SkySong, Fashion Square, and Scottsdale One. The arterial streets of Scottsdale open up to electronic signs as other large projects infill. And how long until a 10-acre business requests an electronic sign to compete with their larger neighbors, exactly as the Quarter is doing?

Why are we even considering such an expansive variance, instead of limiting the request to the Quarter?

The case against electronic signs is strong: the citizens chose to prohibit them, and the proposal is badly crafted.

On the other hand, I went to the outreach meeting with one question: How much sales tax would changing the sign ordinance generate for the citizens of Scottsdale?

As I was driving north on Scottsdale Road I saw each electronic sign across the street in Phoenix. I saw a flash, and resented my eyes being drawn there. I have no idea what they were selling. I personally don’t find the signs effective.

Do electronic signs create enough business to be worth the visual pollution?

At the outreach meeting, and in subsequent conversations on NoDDC’s Facebook page, I heard many of the same concerns. And many other powerful comments.

  • A leasing agent felt overall aesthetics would be bad for business.
  • A commercial property investor felt the electronic signs harmed property values.
  • A shopper said she finds her destinations from GPS.
  • The Apple store at the Quarter is mobbed constantly.
  • Huge six and eight story residential towers filled in all around the Quarter. These tall, dense projects were justified as bringing more business to the Quarter. If importing hundreds of residents didn’t improve business, will flashing signs?
  • The Quarter is stacked tightly with less plazas and walkability like Kierland. Trucks frequently block the ground-level shops. A flashing sign will not change these shortcomings.

The developer shared some good case studies and anecdotes, too.

There are pros and cons to the opinions. But, the developer did not provide a thorough economic impact analysis quantifying in dollars how electronic signs help businesses.

They did not convince me that retail sales taxes would be increased significantly, or why competing across the street requires changing the sign code for the entire city.

I’ve discussed this issue with the majority of our council. Kathy Littlefield and Solange Whitehead shared my concerns about the current rules, and opening up signs to much more of the city.

Councilwoman Milhaven seems to support electronic signs. In an email, she downplayed the proliferation by emphasizing it only affects four areas currently. She said the financial return to the taxpayers was not her focus.

Rather, she is asking whether we wanted electronic signs. I appreciated her emails, but, wondered what was unclear? We have an existing ordinance, where the residents specified that they don’t want electronic signs.

Councilman Phillips also seems to support the signs on his Twitter account, saying “all major cities use them” and chiding people to “focus on real issues.”

What do you think? Is this a good deal for the residents, or are electronic signs another case of selling Scottsdale cheaply to a developer? Please share your feedback with City Council and the Planning Commision at citycouncil@ScottsdaleAz.gov and PlanningCommission@ScottsdaleAZ.gov.

There’s another very important takeaway from this case. The image below is what the city shared electronically.

(Submitted photo)

Great share Planning staff, thank you! But, too technical for laypersons. And why close the discussion?

The below announcement helped me fully understand this issue’s importance, from the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale (cogsaz.org).

(Submitted photo)

This is one suggestion for better Planning outreach. I hope it’s good feedback, for staff and the public to achieve better communication.

Final note: There are five open positions on the Planning Commission over the next 18 months. Please get involved, apply for the openings on Planning and other Commissions.

Editor’s Note: Jason Alexander is the director of NoDDC, and a City Council candidate for 2020.

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