Discriminating But Encouraging

Three Words To Describe Scottsdale’s Pending Political Riddle 

The nation is divided politically.  And so is Scottsdale.  But instead of Democrats and Republicans the city has slow-growthers and pro-growthers.  Some would say pro-business and anti-business but that is a contrast bridge too far.

Scottsdale’s slow growth banner over the years has been enthusiastically carried by former City Councilman and mayoral candidate Bob Littlefield but more effectively recently by his wife, Kathy.  They, and others, argue that too much development may take away that which makes the city special.  This point of view can have a . . . point.  

The alternate point of view was poignantly made here, just yesterday, by attorney Jim Derouin. Here is a link. He argues that without renewal, reinvestment and development Scottsdale’s future may be one like Palm Springs which died a slow death before some recent revitalization.

Who is right?  Who is wrong?  Perhaps neither.  Perhaps there is a fusion that can create a new and better way for the city.

After all, if Scottsdale gets too restrictive, too anti-business or development the marketplace, as it always does, will place investment elsewhere.  This has a cascading economic and tax effect on every citizen, whether they wish to acknowledge it or not.

Conversely, Scottsdale shouldn’t aspire to be downtown Tempe or Phoenix, as the criticism goes. But are height and density really the enemy, depending on the quality of a project and where it goes?

Recent projects are instructive in this regard.  Museum Square, at an empty city transit station, didn’t displace a single business nor intrude on “charming” parts of Old Town.  It was approved unanimously, including by Kathy Littlfield and Councilwoman Solange Whitehead.  But Southbridge 2 tread on more difficult territory.  And it was ultimately defeated.  Stockdale Capital’s upcoming redevelopment plan for the Entertainment District and its environs will be an interesting test.  It’s far more akin to Museum Square than Southbridge 2 and offers architectural significance.

Therein may lie the reform necessary to build more council and political consensus.  

Scottsdale does a great job in parts of the community requiring new and old projects to inject significant art into them.  It does this via a requirement that 1% of a project’s cost be devoted to public art.  This policy helps make the city look and feel different, and better, than other ones.  It’s the price one pays for the privilege to build here.  And it is not so great that it has been dissuasive.

But might all projects be asked to go a step further?  Might any rezone or General Plan Amendment, if they are granted, be required to comply with an “architectural significance” test?  Some might argue that is too subjective.  We say let’s give it a try.  We have confidence the smart citizens and leadership of Scottsdale can craft a working definition.

By so doing it might help reduce the acrimony and up the cool factor throughout Scottsdale.

After all, wouldn’t it be nice to be known not only for our Western heritage, McDowell Sonoran Preserve, special events AND more buildings big and small that have more design panache to them?

How to be more discerning without discouraging business investment?  This is the policy peril of our political moment and creatively raising our standards might be one way to help effectively traverse it.