Phillips: I firmly oppose Scottsdale Desert EDGE on protected lands

Let me first say that I have been against the proposal to build anything in the Preserve from the get-go.

When the DDC first came into public view it was a huge white elephant, laughable even, if it weren’t for the proponents’ special interest backing and persuasion. After all, it has taken them over 20 years to figure out a way around to circumvent the system and the public, to realize a dream of a few despite the outcry of many.

Guy Phillips

So now the dream is close to reality, a few motions by council away from fruition. It is frustrating to watch this juggernaut force its way onto the Preserve against the residents wishes, and to add insult to injury, using our tax dollars to build it.

Yes, we can claim some victories. The DDC/EDGE has been moved from the northeast of the Gateway to the southwest, reduced its scope from 10 acres to 6 and removed some former attractions like restaurants and outdoor concerts — for now. That wouldn’t have happened without bold residents standing up for our city and making sure their voices were heard.

The DDCS group has done a remarkable job with what the city has given them — $1.7 million — and for a research and educational facility it would be remarkable. I could see it as a great addition to a joint effort with Taliesin. In fact, I was so impressed by their expertise and innovations at their presentation that if the DDC/EDGE were off the Preserve, I would probably help them in finding a location and funding sources.

I also believe the public would vote for a bond issuance if only it wasn’t on the Preserve and have told The DDCS people that.

Unfortunately, the DDCS folks are adamant that it has to be on the Preserve, and I fear that once allowed, this will only be the beginning. Who knows what conditional use permit will come before council for concerts, liquor and extended hours? ASU, who the DDCS loves to mention as a partner, has said they will locate their Global Drylands Institute there with up to five new faculty positions and myriad students known as “Desert Keepers.” They plan on investing in scientific equipment and start-up funds for Laboratory Spaces in the DDC.

You think this is where it will end?

Then there’s the scraping of almost 6 acres of land. Who is living there? Hawks, owls, snakes, bobcats, coyotes, javelina, prairie dogs, tarantulas, turtles? They plan on making an exhibit of what an ant colony looks like underground, yet they will have to destroy real ant colonies to build it.

What birds will have lived within this boundary for years before their home, a saguaro, mesquite, or ironwood was relocated? And, for what? To show a faux animal where a real animal once lived?

Proponents like to say that we already allowed building on the Preserve in the form of gateways at each trailhead. To use this rationale to justify even more building proves this project is just the starting point. Let me be clear: there is no doubt in my mind that this is only the beginning.

Fifty years from now you could see a sprawling EDGE research facility southwest of the Gateway probably extending to Bell Road and even the possibility of a hotel or resort complex overlooking the Preserve and EDGE complex.

Let us also not forget that we have chosen to tax ourselves to the tune of over a billion dollars to purchase this Preserve land. That alone should reserve the public’s right to vote on what goes there. As for a public vote, if the council gets four votes to use the Preserve funds, there would be no public vote as the only thing that can go to a ballot is if we want to use bond money, id est, your property tax. Our city attorney has already stated we can build whatever we want. The only question is the money source.

The cost of this project is already projected at $60 million and there will be more expenses incurred as it gets built. Remember the $10 million shortfall for Westworld? Oops! How can those on council who say we are at a $100 million shortfall for capital projects justify spending over $60 million for an unneeded and unwanted project that will likely incur millions in yearly subsidies in the future?

That money should go toward an endowment to maintain the Preserve in perpetuity and continue the Sonoran Conservancy. The DDC/EDGE says they modeled their financial plan after the Museum of the West, who will be asking the city to continue to commit $400,000 a year to help subsidize them. The city simply cant afford both. I’d rather subsidize the MOW, which is an established and needed museum in our downtown, than add on another expense to the taxpayers, especially with those on the council saying we already are in a shortfall.

The DDC/EDGE plan also said the city will supply 5,800 parking spaces to be determined. TBD? We cant even afford parking for Westworld! Where will the city find this giant Costco parking lot and what will that cost you, the taxpayer?

Right now there is no better education than walking the Preserve. Our team of over 600 volunteer stewards of the Sonoran Conservancy give tours, take care of the Preserve and already do scientific research without having to build on it. The Sonoran Conservancy, along with our Preserve Commission are hoping the council will take the unused money from the Preserve tax to create an endowment in perpetuity to take care of the Preserve and fund the research, tours and expenses of the Conservancy. There is not enough money to fund both and this is another choice facing the city council. If this $60 million from the Preserve tax goes to the DDC/EDGE, there will be no endowment and the Conservancy will likely dissolve.

Then who will take care of the Preserve? The Desert Keepers?? Who’s gonna pay for that? If anything, ASU should partner with the Sonoran Conservancy if they want to be a part of our Preserve. Speaking of which, there is still land left in the voter-approved study boundary. As long as there is still Preserve land to be bought and the taxpayer money to purchase it — whether or not we are the highest bidder — we owe it to the public as our fiduciary duty to continue the process as agreed until there is no more available land. In my opinion, to use the tax money for a research institute while there is still land to be purchased is in itself a violation of the 2004 bond question which states: “To provide funds to be used solely for acquiring land and improvements thereto.”

This statement implies that the land needs to be purchased first in order to do any improvements, not the other way around. So, before any improvements are to be made, we have to acquire — or try to acquire — all possible land first. There is still 3,000 acres left in the boundary. We shouldn’t be spending land-acquiring dollars on secondary improvements until all purchasing is exhausted and then primary improvements like trailheads and paths before considering secondary improvements anywhere on the Preserve.

In conclusion, no amount of faux boulders, gilded birds, CGI floods and cement turtles can compete with what your Preserve already offers: a sense of majesty, awe and tranquility from a city who’s residents have voted to tax themselves over a billion dollars, to set aside 30,000 acres to remain undisturbed in perpetuity. We have done everything right so far. Let’s not get off track pursuing a project that is not wanted by an overwhelming majority of residents.

Scottsdale still retains its ranking as one of the best destinations in the world, and its because of the hard work, perseverance, pride and dedication of our residents. That is what makes me proud to serve you. I have not given up the fight to keep the DDC/EDGE off the Preserve and I hope you wont either.

Editor’s note: Mr. Phillips is a member of Scottsdale City Council


Editor's Note: Mr. Phillips is a member of Scottsdale City Council.

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