Alley: An open letter to Scottsdale City Council

In a shocking turn of events, another massive apartment and hotel complex is being proposed at an iconic intersection in south Scottsdale.

Andrea Alley

Just kidding. It’s just another day in the life at City Hall.

For years, those of us who live in south Scottsdale have been fed the same dog food repeatedly: To get the retail, services and restaurants we want, there need to be enough residents there to support them.

For years — years — we have waited as apartments on top of condos on top of office buildings on top of hotel developments have gone up all around us, built higher and higher and with more invasive density… and a grand total of two new restaurants and a bar have gone in at Skysong, and McFate across the street.

All of these are wonderful, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not enough to accommodate the needs of this now vibrant, young, visionary, and growing community.

Meanwhile, 68th Street has become a parking lot during rush hour, our formerly quiet neighborhood streets are becoming dangerous thoroughfares to those trying to get around the traffic, and residents can’t sell their homes because there are now three-story condos or apartments violating their privacy via their back yards.

You can’t blame these people for feeling a little NIMBY-ish. After all, would you want to live there? No. No, you wouldn’t.

Scottsdale City Council, what is the end-goal with all of this residential development? What is the vision? Our community has never been exposed to any sort of cohesive vision for south Scottsdale from you, the decision-makers. You seem to expect us to sit back and watch as you rubber stamp every up-zoned residential project that crosses your desks.

Once upon a time we were told that the “live-work-play” lifestyle would draw Millennials to the area in droves, ready to start their jobs at these new companies at Skysong, which would be walkable since they would all live in the apartments, reducing the amount of traffic and bringing more life to the area that existing residents have been more than ready to enjoy.

However, many of the jobs at the companies who have planted their flags in the area don’t pay enough to support the rent at the “luxury” apartments that have sprung up in the area. Same with all the people who have moved into the apartments — they leave to go to work. So all it’s done is increase traffic and congestion as these workers commute into the area for their jobs, then promptly leave because there is nothing to do in south Scottsdale. You must get in a car and drive north into Old Town or south into Tempe.

Live-work-play was only ever a sales pitch — it is not the reality. Especially when there is nowhere to play. The other missing piece of the equation? Millennials have families now. Even if they can afford them, they don’t want condos and apartments.

They want houses with yards where they can raise their kids. These families work hard to make the income that is required to live in this now highly-in-demand and upwardly-priced part of the Phoenix metro area.

Yes, along with the market, our property values have gone up steadily in recent years, no doubt as a partial result of much of the development that has happened. That is undeniable and we can give credit where credit is due. When you consider this, the demographics are not what they used to be.

Perhaps they have changed so much that now more businesses would see the value in coming to our area without requiring even more residents. The income is there to support it, because it has to be — our property values dictate it.

I suggest that it is time to define the tipping point — and slow this bullet train down.

Nobody would argue that Papago Plaza needs to go, and residents were excited at the prospect because it has always been zoned for retail. But instead, we get a rezoning proposal for five stories of yet more apartments, another hotel, three restaurants, a single small building set aside for retail, and a “small grocer” with a four-story parking garage in the backyard of existing homes.

Sure, there are a couple of things to be excited about. However, when you dissect the plan, it becomes a lot less innovative — and just more of the same.

Apparently, in the presentation for this development it was called a “mini Kierland Commons” and I absolutely had to laugh. It’s described as 50 percent retail/restaurant and 360 percent residential — which, besides defying basic math, is nothing like Kierland Commons. On page 18 of the proposal the developer touts that this will be a pedestrian destination and I quote: “By providing structured parking, the developer is allowing the site to hold a variety of commercial uses. Uses that were expressed by the neighborhood to be needed and important to the community.”

A variety of commercial uses?

Aside from the grocer, this proposal gives us a few thousand square feet of undefined retail in a site with literally hundreds of thousands of planned square feet strictly devoted to five stories of residential rental units, and this isn’t the only residential proposal in the immediate area in the docket right now. It is also worth mentioning that walking on and crossing both Scottsdale and McDowell roads is like playing Russian roulette with your life.

Council members — a development with only 14 percent commercial use — and a majority of it hotel space — is not what the community asked for. In fact, the community has repeatedly asked not to have more apartments go up, yet here comes a developer claiming that 450,000 square feet of apartments is a “neighborhood destination.”

I beg to differ.

A hotel is not a neighborhood destination. One tiny retail building is not a neighborhood destination. Absolutely the grocer and restaurants are a step in the right direction. But it in no way addresses all that we have been waiting for. The community needs family-friendly facilities like a splash pad and a playground and an open area with games that dovetail into the restaurant spaces.

Once that priceless corner of the city is filled with apartments, that’s it — that space is gone. Why not knock off a couple stories and make the first floor of this residential project something useful to the community as a whole, designed to include things like a fitness facility, a full-service salon, boutiques, business and financial services, a community work space, coffee shop, or a concierge medical office?

Let’s build better residents, not just more buildings. It’s one thing to want to build anything to fill a dilapidated space but it’s something else to be revolutionary and useful. There needs to be some balance to all this development — the community is desperate for it.

The council can no longer treat south Scottsdale like red-headed stepchildren who need to be slapped on the wrist and sent to the corner every time we speak up for what we want. You must take notice, because we have your number come 2020.

My neighbors will know which council and mayoral candidates will listen to what we have to say and advocate for responsible development in this, the oldest part of and the very gateway to our city. After this year’s election, we are paying more attention than ever before and we will settle for no less than resident-friendly council members.

Just because we have no one who lives south of Shea sitting on the council does not mean that we are the dumping grounds to generate more tax revenue for a city that can’t seem to properly manage the taxes it does receive (remember Question 1?). So stop. We’ve had enough. Fix our bridges. Stop being irresponsible with the trust we placed in you all those years ago. Find out what the community really wants. We have ideas. Then do your jobs, and find a way to make it happen.

Have some vision, be creative, use your relationships in the business community to give your constituents something amazing. Throw away your rubber stamps, because this proposal, in its current form, is not it.

Your developer friends won’t like my ideas. But last I checked, you represent us — not them.

Join me Dec. 12th at City Hall to learn more about and contribute to the discussion about the proposed project at Papago Plaza, or email your council at citycouncil@scottsdaleaz.gov. The proposal can be found here: https://eservices.scottsdaleaz.gov/planning/projectsummary/applicant_submittals/ProjInfo_6_ZN_2018.pdf.

Editor’s note: Ms. Alley is a wife and mom living with her family in one of three historic neighborhoods in Scottsdale.

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