COGS Board of Directors: Extensive Scottsdale up-zoning is financially unsound

The Coalition of Greater Scottsdale (COGS) strongly opposes further “up-zoning” of all large-lot properties in Scottsdale, with very limited exceptions.

Rationale:

One of Scottsdale’s strengths has always been its wide diversity of housing and lifestyle opportunities, including its large equestrian population and equestrian properties. Multiple areas in Scottsdale provide that diversity, with a variety of large lot options.

COGS Chair, Sonnie Kirtley

All these areas are under attack, and we stand to lose that diversity and those lifestyle options as developers try to buy and up-zone large lots into high density housing. Losing that diversity will have a negative impact on the city’s desirability by limiting housing diversity and lifestyle options.

Northern Scottsdale provides a rural desert experience that doesn’t exist elsewhere. Scottsdale is a leader in living within the environment rather than transforming it.

Northern Scottsdale, with its lush Sonoran Desert and Environmentally Sensitive Lands Ordinance  to protect it, has become the showcase of learning how to live within the environment instead of drastically changing it.

It is this environment, and its rural, desert, equestrian, and western character, that has attracted a significant number of higher income residents and property owners to northern Scottsdale. A similar argument can be made for large-lot areas in other parts of the city, though they don’t offer the same desert experience to be found in northern Scottsdale.

The desirability of these large lots and desert environment has resulted in significant residential property investment, and therefore high property values that have contributed significantly to Scottsdale’s prosperity, vitality, reputation and economy. It is our position that the current accelerating up-zoning of large-lot properties in Scottsdale is forever negatively changing this character and its draw to high-end and equestrian-oriented residents.

The General Plan issue:

There has been an alarming number of up-zoning requests approved by the Scottsdale City Council in recent years and there are numerous other requests in process as well as other targeted large parcels.

The flood gates under the old General Plan 2001 “guidelines” have been opened and many property owners and/or developers are lining up to take advantage of this city council’s proclivity to grant up-zoning. Once one property is up-zoned, the vacant, large acreage properties in the area commonly request similar increased density and/or clustering, creating a cancer-like negative impact on such a desirable area.

The neighboring rural property owners lose value as their rural, desert, western, large-lot character area has been degraded by being surrounded by higher density residential or commercial property.

This started in the Cactus Corridor, but now has become common place in all of northern Scottsdale. These up-zonings change the character of an area from “rural” to “suburban” with actually far less than one-acre lot size.

Such increases in density also stress infrastructure planned for lower density, especially roads previously lowered in classification in anticipation of build-out at the existing zoning. Traffic volumes have increased dramatically, again making the area less desirable for those who would relocate here because of its unique character.

In addition, much of northern Scottsdale was intentionally zoned for lower density because of the abundance of natural features that needed to be protected, and due to the difficulty of developing the varied topography, while also adhering to the requirements of the ESLO.

When it is rezoned to double or quadruple the number of units, the lots must be clustered and significantly reduced to maintain washes and significant natural features, again totally changing the character of the area and increasing the cost to develop the parcels and the impact of development on the environment. Zoning wasn’t arbitrarily applied, rather the zoning was selected and applied for very valid reasons.

COGS members who served on the GP 2035 Task Force and other COGS members worked diligently and extensively to draft and present this position in the city’s new proposed general plan, which was never presented to the voters for ratification.

Northern Scottsdale communities abut the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

The additional conference of selected post-GP 2035 diverse-opinion task force members to re-analyze the proposed “Land Use special attention to Rural Neighborhoods” did reach a consensus — protection was needed for our rural neighborhoods in the land use matrix.

Their agreement on the separation of Desert Rural and Rural Neighborhoods would have required additional city council scrutiny and a higher standard for approval of any applications that would increase density and reduce parcel sizes. That community input was shelved along with the 1.5 years of task force member efforts.

In the end, the city failed its obligation to present to the voters a new 10-year general plan, thereby leaving the city with an outdated 17-year-old general plan. This enables the city council to facilitate intensive development, almost uncontrolled up-zoning and wholesale destruction of Scottsdale’s valued western and rural heritage and open spaces.

The economic issue:

COGS engaged in this effort to add protection to Scottsdale’s important character primarily to increase the fiscal underpinning of Scottsdale’s economy. This was to maintain its attraction to the affluent residents and visitors who contribute a net positive income to the city.

Economists confirmed that Scottsdale must build on what made it successful: Attracting tourists and affluent residents.

They also confirmed that high-density developments are more expensive to a city because they require more city services (police, fire, infrastructure, recreational amenities) than lower density, large-lot rural areas. Scottsdale’s equestrian and other large-lot property owners combined with tourists contribute heavily to our city’s economy, offsetting the loss from other types of development.

Summary:

For the above reasons, COGS strongly believes that further up-zoning of Scottsdale’s large-lot properties should not be approved without proven significant community benefit and city economic benefit. Continuing the current policy of extensive up-zoning is financially unsound for a city that is already experiencing serious budgetary problems.

Editor’s Note: The COGS Board of Directors is comprised of: Marilynn Atkinson, Sonnie Kirtley, Jim Davis, Cookie Morganstern, Stanley Morganstern, Howard Myers, Joanne “Copper” Phillips, Chris Schaffner and Nick Thomas.

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