A Positive Development Comes at a Risk

It has long been spoken about on this blog and in other places the degree to which the unfettered development growth days are over with in Scottsdale. Instead, today’s ethos is leadership that requests a significantly higher bar for developers to hurdle over in order to earn a blessing from the council dais, and an engaged and active citizenry that isn’t afraid to push back strongly against massive projects.

Leading the successful pushback against lowered development standards was current Mayor Dave Ortega, a former architect whose focus on more stringent standards when it comes to building height and density was a central theme in his campaign. So a recent statement of his was an interesting one that is sure to please many but perhaps leave some scratching their heads.

A massive $1 billion, 32-acre redevelopment of the old Cracker Jax amusement park named “The Parque” has not only passed through the gauntlet of City Hall, but has earned glowing praise from the mayor, a relative rarity for massive development projects in his time in office.

This is perhaps a signal from the mayor that concerns about him being obstructionist with regards to any significantly-sized developments are overblown. And in fairness to his reputation, in his campaign and during his time in office, he made it clear that quality development was the goal, including heights which don’t exceed code, reasonable traffic mitigation, and mixed-use concepts that add value as opposed to add-ins designed to make for a good enough presentation to placate politicians.

However, this comes at a risk; having the same people who appreciated his hesitancy towards overdevelopment turn on him. And we have already seen those knives come out; in our Speakers’ Corner segment with Bob Littlefield, he specifically mentioned Ortega and his approval for The Parque as just the sort of project that he had campaigned against. There may be a touch of hard feelings as Ortega did beat out Littlefield in his path to becoming mayor, but we don’t want to entirely dismiss the validity of the charge. The addition of 1,332 residential units and hotel rooms will add a non-insignificant degree of population density and traffic to the area.

And questions, if not criticism, is entirely fair in this case. But it is also important to recognize the nature of this space; it was an abandoned amusement park. It was an extremely large space for which something would need to be done, lest it turn into an eyesore, a target to vandals and weeds. For that size, to make something compelling that adds value to the area is no small feat.

This will be a dynamic worth watching in 2024; at the moment none of the competitors for mayor can lay claim to being more “growth-hesitant” than Ortega, but there may now be a small space that is opening up for someone like Littlefield. And the councilmembers running for re-election are no doubt keeping their eyes and ears open to gauge the temperature of the electorate in the wake of a slight loosening in that growth-hesitant environment.