It’s hard for a developer to lose once at the Scottsdale Planning Commission. But twice? Unheard of.
Yet, this week that’s what happened to one of the worst development applications in recent memory.
Seeking to supersize an entitlement an apparent out-of-state developer sought permission to change zoning for 5 homes on five acres near WestWorld on McDowell Mountain Ranch Road to 200 units for amorphous senior living.
Not one citizen spoke in favor when the project was roundly rejected the first time, nor on Wednesday night. The public record showed 40 people against and one in favor. Barrett-Jackson, the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show and Scottsdale Quarter Horse Show all spoke against the request as did area resident Jason Alexander who noted the project would be the densest around.
As Scottsdale City Councilwoman Solange Whitehead has been succinctly saying in voting for some entitlement requests but not others: rezonings are earned, they are not a right. In this case the merits were so deficient it begs the question why Scottsdale Planning staff was doing highly questionably gymnastics to aid the application. Fortunately, Planning Commissioner Christian Serena led the charge, supported by Renee Higgs and the impressive, sober consideration of Chairman Paul Alessio that saw the forest threw the zoning trees.
And what was that view exactly?
That the city has an absolute jewel in WestWorld, a tourism mecca and the geographic heart of the city. While there is some truth that WestWorld can resemble the “Buckeye Convention Center,” as community leader Mike Norton is want to say, there’s no denying the critical role WestWorld plays in Scottsdale’s economy as it hosts three of Scottsdale’s signature events along with many others.
To approve new residential densities next to it from which future residents will complain makes zero sense. If we want WestWorld to be all it can and should we can’t hamstring the operation by putting in place new constituencies that will ultimately complain about its success. And WestWorld today gets a lot of complaints. What residential has been approved near WestWorld is done. That can’t be reversed. But new proposals can, especially when the residential density requests are so extreme.
Consider too the ultimate insult approval of this project would be to Scottsdale voters. They JUST approved, in a landslide bond election, over $50 million in and around WestWorld. Voters realized the venue’s great promise and the value of investing in it. For a Planning Commission or City Council to then handcuff that vote of confidence in WestWorld would be the height of irresponsibility.
Over these last number of years Scottsdale has seen Rawhide, Pinnacle Peak Patio, Greasewood and other sites emblematic of the city’s Western heritage go away. WestWorld isn’t just an economic and tourism driver. It is the heartbeat of what has been, and is, good and right and best about this community.
Voters understood this last month. Will the City Council in January when this bad development plan stumbles before it, having not lost once but a record two times before the Scottsdale Planning Commission?