SDLE Neighborhood, Council Opposition on Greenbelt 88

Credit: Nelsen Partners/City of Scottsdale

By Roland Murphy for AZBEX

EDITOR’S NOTE: Make sure to check out the AZBEX November 30th edition, where we take a deep dive into development fatigue, the rise of neighborhood opposition and the potential impact they are having and may continue to have on housing and other development types in the Valley.

A virulent neighborhood opposition movement and Scottsdale City Council generally opposed to increase in building heights and neighborhood density have led Lucky Plaza owner Todd Silver and his company, Village Property Management LLC to request and receive yet another continuance for a plan to redevelop the fading 1970s-era retail plaza into a multifamily and boutique retail mixed-use.

The most recent iteration of the redevelopment plan, which would have placed 278 multifamily units and 25KSF of retail on the currently all-retail (>60KSF) approximately seven-acre site, was recommended for approval late this summer on a 4-3 vote of the Scottsdale Planning Commission. A zoning district map amendment and amended development standards are required for the project to proceed.

The project has become a somewhat unlikely test case pitting redevelopment efforts against some development fatigue-laden residents who oppose new multifamily development anywhere in Scottsdale on the basis of community character. A group calling itself Safeguard Scottsdale has been the leading voice of opposition. While it has only 39 followers on Facebook, an ipetitions page, similar to petitions on change.org and other sites, has so far drawn 870 signatures.

In an August 31st profile in Scottsdale Progress, group leader Jan Vuicich had predicted more than 1,000 signatures by the time the project proposal was to reach City Council in September. The petition has not yet been shared with the City Council and remains open on the site for new signatures.

Not only did the petition numbers not reach the four-figure level, the project was continued at the developer’s request to permit more time and opportunity for the development team to work with opponents to address their concerns.

Throughout the process, Vuicich and Safeguard Scottsdale have claimed Silver and his team were “inflexible” and unwilling to alter the proposal to better reflect residents’ desires for the future of the neighborhood. The team, however, has held multiple neighborhood meetings, repeatedly decreased the planned multifamily unit count, revised the height, made structural changes to the plans and implemented at least 15 revisions as a result of interactions with neighbors and planning staff, according to an August presentation before the Planning Commission.

Social media postings on Facebook and Nextdoor show an impassioned, if not particularly expansive, degree of opposition. There are few, if any, arguments on project specifics, but hundreds of posts expressing variations on the mantras of, “No Apartments in Scottsdale!” and, “Say no to density!” Several posts also contain demonstrably false assertions about the project’s likely traffic impacts, building details and other aspects with no factual foundation.

Opponents insist they are not against rejuvenating the plaza, but many are demanding commercial-only elements with a retail focus. This insistence comes despite the fact that Scottsdale is the Valley community most over-served by retail. Data from CoStar/ESRI show Scottsdale as having a retail per capita ratio of 90.1SF. Tempe is a distant second at 69.6SF.

In addition to the general retail over-service and general decline of brick-and-mortar retail nationwide, Lucky Plaza is currently anchored by two under-trafficked big-box stores, which were struggling to maintain sufficient foot traffic to survive even before the pandemic.

Opposition Headwinds Remain

Opponents have found support in the current Scottsdale City Council. Mayor David Ortega and the most recently seated members were elected, in part, because of their anti-development stances, having gained prominence with successful opposition to the massive Southbridge 2.0 proposal once planned in the city’s downtown.

Some members, including one-time project supporter Solange Whitehead, have publicly said they would not vote to approve the Greenbelt 88 redevelopment.

In spite of the Planning Commission recommendation and a separate recommendation from Council staff posted on November 11th that the project be approved, the November 16th meeting would have been a certain defeat.

Silver told AZBEX in the days leading up to the scheduled November 16th Council meeting he did not expect the project to win approval if it went before Council and that he was seeking a continuance to further revise the plan. He referred to the process as a “major uphill battle.”

Originally planned for a 388-unit multifamily only development, the proposal was revised downward to 300, then to 288. Other revisions added 25KSF of retail and the inclusion of public amenities. The count was revised downward again to 278 units by the time it reached the Planning Commission and Council.

Silver’s next revision will likely be a decrease to 258 units and more structural changes.

In debating the request for continuance last week, Council members were unusually direct in expressing their sentiments. Scottsdale Progress quoted Whitehead as saying, “If this project had the support of the City Council, you would not be requesting an extension.”

The same article reported Member Kathy Littlefield said she would not vote for the project even with the impending changes. “The project is too tall, it’s too dense, it offers too little retail and generates too much traffic,” she was quoted as having said. “None of that has changed. It’s out of character with the area and the whole idea of the greenbelt itself, which is openness to the neighbors and the neighborhoods who paid for it.”

Despite the harassment Silver, the development team and project supporters have received from opponents through social media and elsewhere, Littlefield also spoke to champion opponents who claim the development team has been “disrespectful” and “inflexible.”

The Scottsdale Independent quoted Littlefield as saying, “I don’t like name calling – when citizens come out and spend this much of their time, and their effort, and their interest and their love of the city to work this hard to try and get something they think will be good for their neighborhoods, and then to get into some kind of name-calling combat situation, that’s not right. They’re just citizens of Scottsdale living in this neighborhood, they get no reimbursement for their time or their energy, they just care.”

Mayor Ortega also questioned the continuance, saying he would prefer to see the project scrapped and resubmitted as a new proposal. He was quoted in the Independent report as saying, “I believe it would be more useful for, I don’t want to call it the baggage, of maybe 300-400 pages of the previous project to carry forward in a continuance format. I believe it would serve everyone better if it were restarted as a new project.” He also noted the amount of time staff has spent on various reviews and lamented the burden and expense in terms of hours the project has received compared to its original application fee.

While he ultimately encouraged the development team to continue its work on revising the project plans, Ortega, too, said he would oppose the project if it were not significantly altered.

Ultimately, Council voted 6-1 to continue the project until February. Littlefield was the dissenting vote. Progress quoted her as saying, “Requesting one more month, or two more months or three more months for a new design and insight from the community does not leave me hopeful.”

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