Littlefield: Scottsdale voters deserve clear-choice vote on Desert EDGE proposal

Since last Tuesday’s Scottsdale City Council work study meeting to discuss the Desert Discovery Center/Desert Edge proposal many citizens have asked me what did the council actually decide and what happens next with this controversial project.

Kathy Littlefield

I cannot speak for my council colleagues, but I want to make it crystal clear where I stand and what I will fight for on this issue.

First, I personally am opposed to the current Desert Discovery Center/Desert Edge proposal.

One of my objections is financial — building the Desert Discovery Center/Desert Edge will drain a whopping $62 million taxpayer dollars from our Preserve and bed tax funds, diverting those dollars from more worthy projects with a better return to the city.

Also, the annual operating deficit will have to be covered from the city’s General Fund, which means less money for public safety, streets, parks and other important municipal needs.

But my biggest objection to the current Desert Discovery Center/Desert Edge proposal is it is a commercial enterprise, and to allow this to be built in the Preserve would break the promises made when voters were asked to tax themselves almost a billion dollars to purchase the land for the Preserve.

We were promised it would be a Preserve, not a park, and certainly not a commercial venture! Proponents of this project claim it is not a commercial enterprise, but it allows for food, alcohol and commercial sales and nightlife, 60 nights per year. All of this is not allowed under the Preserve ordinance, which the council would have to extensively modify to allow the project in the Preserve.

Despite these problems it appears a majority of the councilmembers want to move ahead with building the Desert Discovery Center/Desert Edge in the Preserve and funding it with taxpayer dollars. If that is their wish I firmly believe the city council has a moral and a legal obligation to seek permission from Scottsdale voters to do so. The Preserve is not just any piece of municipal property — it was sold to the voters as a special place and should be treated as such by the city council.

But I cannot support the ballot language being considered by staff to “allow construction of Desert Edge in the Preserve, and prohibit future construction of projects of similar size, scope, and location to be built in the Preserve” because it forces voters into a “heads-I-win-tails-you-lose” choice — if they vote “yes” they get commercial development in the Preserve, but if they vote “no” they are approving future commercial development in the Preserve.

Most Scottsdale residents don’t want either of these bad outcomes! I believe the council should simply reject the current Desert Discovery Center/Desert Edge proposal as a bad idea. But if the council is going to put the Desert Discovery Center/Desert Edge proposal to the voters it should be a straight up-or-down vote without any conflicting or confusing language. If they are OK with this project, they can vote “yes;” if not, they can vote “no.” And, we will know.

Either way, this debacle has made it clear we do need to put to the public the ballot language I proposed at Tuesday’s meeting; a clear, unambiguous Charter Amendment prohibiting any commercial development in the Preserve, now and into the future. It must be a Charter Amendment because an ordinance or General Plan Amendment can be overturned by a future city council without consulting the voters.

Such a Charter Amendment would give Scottsdale citizens what they were always promised: a true Preserve, free from commercial development, now and into the future.

As Preserve pioneer Carla said in a letter to the Tourism Development Commission:

“The Preserve brought us together; it is now being used to tear us apart. Allow a vote to heal our community – if we do not allow this, we will not heal but this wound will continue to fester for years.”

Editor’s note: Mrs. Littlefield is a member of Scottsdale City Council

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