Smith: another right of an Arizona citizen is lost

Tensions sometimes arise between developers — driven to maximize their project’s profitability — and neighbors fearful a project’s height, density, traffic impact and design may undermine their quality of life.

David Smith

Most citizens don’t have any rights, regardless of their concerns; but neighbors next to a project do have a voice … at least they did until the Arizona Legislature curtailed those rights two months ago.

It used to be: if neighbors were concerned about a project proposed next door, they would talk with the developer and try to negotiate acceptable modifications. If negotiations failed to satisfy the neighbors, they could gather signatures from like-minded neighbors and file something called a “legal protest.”

To qualify, a legal protest had to include the signatures of 20 percent of the neighbors on any one side of a project. A legal protest could be overturned, but it took six Scottsdale councilmembers to do so. Any new development that “pushed the envelope” might expect approval from four members; getting six votes was often a challenge.

In the closing days of the last legislative session, HB 2116 was introduced modifying the requirements for a legal protest. As the bill moved to the Senate, legislators were lobbied by developers’ attorneys, who are often paid to push the envelope.

The Senate-amended HB 2116 included changes to the legal protest law to do two things:

  • First, neighbors would now be required to obtain signatures from 20 percent of all properties by area and number on every side of and within the project. Typically, that would make it four times as hard to get enough qualifying signatures.
  • Second, on the off-chance neighbors might actually succeed in their signature gathering effort, a developer would only be required to muster five Scottsdale council votes instead of six to overturn the citizens’ protest.

HB 2116, as amended by the Senate, passed the House May 8 and was signed by Governor Ducey two days later.

The message was clear: developers know more than citizens about what’s good for Scottsdale and its neighborhoods. Another citizen voice has been quieted. Another citizen right has been lost.

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


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