Guest Editorial: Old Town Becomes a Battle Zone

By Alexander Lomax

Photo Credit: Arianna Grainey






One of the first real battles of David Ortega’s time as Mayor has now come, and to the surprise of few, it comes in the form of development disagreements.

Ortega campaigned strongly on the message of quality growth, a message that numerous city council candidates also pursued in their successful campaigns. Recently Ortega pushed forward on these promises, looking to review the Old Town Scottsdale Character Area Plan for the first time since 2018. More specifically, Ortega is looking to implement three changes designed to restrict development: updating parking requirements, updating a land-use document, and amending zoning ordinances.

Ortega currently has majority support within the council for such moves; Betty Janik put out an op-ed in strong support, and Ortega can also count on Councilors Tom Durham, Solange Whitehead, and Kathy Littlefield in general support for the plan. Like in the past, Linda Milhaven has been in staunch opposition to nearly everything that Ortega proposes, and Tammy Caputi is in agreement with some but not all items proposed.

This is an important conversation to have; we’re talking about the future of Old Town here. The area has an incredibly unique flavor to it; it is a destination, one that is a primary reason why many people come here, and an incentive to stay for a while and spend more money in our shops. It is special enough that it shouldn’t be disrupted heavily in the pursuit of greater population density and higher profits. But at the same time, one-size-fits-all dictates are not always helpful either. Some projects may add value to the area, even if they rise above a predetermined height limit. 

As with everything else involving municipal politics and plans, the devils are in the details, the boring minutiae that few people other than city staffers, lobbyists and developers care much about. But those details will carry with them the future dynamics of this vibrant area.

While I certainly don’t want to see Old Town turned into a haven for soulless high-rises, I also hope that Council has the flexibility to see exceptional projects for what they are, and to not judge the merits of a project based solely on height, density, and parking. While those are certainly important factors, real value added to the area should be of utmost importance, and can’t always be measured with sets of numbers.