by Edward Gately – Nov. 16, 2010 09:13 AM
The Arizona Republic
When the new City Council is seated in January, the future of Scottsdale’s skyline will be in its hands.
Council members Wayne Ecton and Marg Nelssen will depart, and newly elected Linda Milhaven and Dennis Robbins will begin their terms.
The council will face a growing number of rezoning proposals that call for greater building heights within the downtown area, spurred by the downtown infill-incentive district and plan. The district allows buildings of up to 150 feet north of the Arizona Canal and surrounding the Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center.
Gray Development Group is seeking approval for a two-building, luxury apartment complex near Camelback and Scottsdale roads, with at least one building close to 150 feet tall. That would match the AmTrust Bank building at 69th Street and Camelback Road.
The Blue Sky proposal has since been scaled back to a maximum height of 133 feet. The council has yet to consider the plan because of legal protests filed by surrounding property owners.
Other projects calling for greater heights in the downtown area have been filed with the city.
One calls for increasing the maximum height from 36 to 90 feet at Scottsdale Road and Angus Drive. Another proposes raising the maximum height from 36 to 65 feet on Scottsdale Road just south of the Arizona Canal.
Meanwhile, the owner of the Scottsdale Waterfront wants the final phases to include a building nearly 150 feet in height. The Waterfront is located in its own infill-incentive district.
“It’s all up to the council,” said Dan Symer, senior city planner, referring to those requests prompted by the downtown infill-incentive district.
“They can ask for additional heights and densities, and intensities,” he said of developers. “The community wanted a case-by-case analysis done. And if at the end of the day the council doesn’t agree that it’s a good application, it will deny it. Or if they think it is a good application, they will approve it. It all comes down to the (applicant) convincing the council.”
Defining council’s vision
Councilman Ron McCullagh would like the council to determine its vision for the city before considering proposals that would alter the skyline.
“The things that are being proposed right now pursuant to the infill-incentive district really aren’t relative, they’re extreme in their scale relative to the things around them,” he said. “And when you have that kind of a difference between what is proposed and what was ever contemplated, then you have really a difference in vision, not just a difference in policy and not just an issue of design or height.”
Councilman Bob Littlefield not only is against greater heights in the downtown area, but would like the council to eliminate the infill-incentive district and plan.
“I’m opposed to greater heights and density . . . because it’s inconsistent with what voters said they want downtown Scottsdale to look like,” he said. “It’s not downtown Tempe or downtown Phoenix, and to allow (greater heights and density) will simply make it look like those other towns.”
Nelssen has made it clear that she is opposed to greater heights and density in the downtown area. She also thinks Blue Sky is too high and dense, and that the project is not scaled correctly for the size of the parcel and the area.
Ecton hasn’t taken an official stand on building heights.
“We have to take into consideration both sides of the issue,” he said.
Chamber: Downtown evolving
A 2008 voters attitude study commissioned by the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce showed 46 percent of respondents agreed that “to provide open space, parks and a people-friendly environment downtown, it is appropriate for the city to allow greater heights in return for a smaller building footprint so those amenities can be provided.” Thirty percent of respondents disagreed with the assertion.
According to chamber President and CEO Rick Kidder, there is “very strong” community support for greater building heights in the periphery surrounding downtown’s neighborhoods.
“We would be loathed to see height in the unique districts of downtown that make downtown so special,” he said. “But we also recognize that the periphery is emerging as an urban area . . . and is attracting young professionals and bringing in new talent. We need to provide housing options for that talent.”
Milhaven and Robbins would favor greater heights under the right circumstances and in the right locations.
“If you look at the downtown plan, it talks about having more people living downtown and I completely agree,” Milhaven said. “And all those areas they’re talking about are either on empty lots or on the edge. The historic part of downtown, I don’t see (where) there would be any changes there.”
Robbins said many people want to make sure Scottsdale maintains its character and doesn’t end up looking like Tempe or Phoenix.
“But I also think there are some places where height would work,” he said. “You certainly want to have increased activity and vibrancy throughout our downtown, and yet you don’t want to have a negative impact on those already here. So you have to be careful in how you allow certain things to happen.”