Guest Editorial: A Tale of Two Apartment Complexes

By Alex McLaren

I attended the City Council meeting on Wednesday December 7th where two apartment complexes were on the agenda.  Actually, three were on the agenda but one was withdrawn by the Applicant, possibly knowing that there was a difficult hearing ahead for any apartment complex.

The Kiva was crowded and most of the attendees were fervently against the Mercado project that is just south of Shea on 92nd St.  There were poster board signs declaring “No to Apartments” and there were thumbs up (and down) signs brandished when they agreed with or disagreed with speakers.

I supported the project because it would have provided much needed housing in the area.  The hospital and other businesses in the area would have benefitted from the redevelopment of this blighted property.  The project conformed to the Shea Area plan as well as General Plan 2035.

Some on the Council expressed much concern about the water situation and while it would be beneficial for projects to possibly bring additional water resources to the city, we do have a hundred year assured water supply.   The city has a drought contingency plan which is coordinated with the State Plan and is continually monitored.

Traffic on Shea is heavy at certain times of the day but the Mercado project provided mitigation in the form of a traffic signal at 92nd.  City staff also approved the Traffic Mitigation Plan.  The current zoning of the site, if built, will generate considerably more traffic than the proposed Mercado project.

Many of the opposition speakers made veiled or not so veiled election threats to any Council person who supported the project.  Many were downright hostile.  Our level of public discourse is hovering at a new low.

The project was voted down 5 to 2.

The second apartment complex is located at 3200 N Scottsdale Rd, in south Scottsdale, (my neck of the woods}, and will convert a 2.4-acre property that currently houses the Scottsdale Trailer Corral.

All the opponents of the Mercado project had by this time exited the Kiva, maybe because the project is located in south Scottsdale?

I supported this project as well.  The project is located in the southern area of the Old Town Character Area Plan and will provide additional housing in the area.  It will be a major reinvestment in the area and the building design, on a fairly difficult long site, will blend into the existing complexes to the north and the proposed project to the south.

There was no Council discussion of the water situation for this project, maybe because stipulations in all cases require that the project(s) provide a water report that confirms that the project has sufficient supply and needs staff approval.

The mayor was very concerned about the mixed use of the proposal and felt that the commercial area needed to be increased.  The mayor was also concerned about the density of the proposal which was listed as 55.8 dwelling units per acre.   He is concerned that this density is too high, despite it being in line with existing projects in the area and in conformance with the Old Town Plan.

The mayor also voted to approve the Optima McDowell Mountain Village (on November 21st) which has a density of 61 homes per acre.  The mayor voted against the High Street Residential project at the same November meeting citing the density of 46 dwelling units per acre as being too intense.   Both of these projects have considerable merit and I would support both of them.

The Council was considering a possible continuance of the project when the owner of the property gave a vigorous defense of the project and agreed to stipulate to an increase the commercial space and adjust the number of dwelling units accordingly.    This kind of negotiating from the Council is not, in my opinion, good public policy.  It left the staff with having to clear up all the documents in future meetings with the developer.  The developer had every right to defend his project and thus remove potential delays and other changes to the project.

The Council approved this Apartment Complex 7 to 0.

My concern is that the mayor and council are moving towards a wholesale revamping of the Old Town Scottsdale Character Plan.  This plan was adopted unanimously in 2018 and was a result of many years of planning and public input and also built upon previously adopted Plans, going back to 1984.  Economic uncertainty is a vicious enemy of free markets and uncertainty in the property market is no exception.  I can only hope that property owners in the Old Town Area are as determined to protect their private property rights as the developer of the second apartment complex.