The Paradise Valley Town Council And Planning Commission Shouldn’t Bail Out A Developer Who Made A Bad Deal

Government is being asked to help and bail out a lot of things these days.

But there is no more egregious example locally than in the Town of Paradise Valley.

First, we’re going to let you in on a dirty little secret.  Voracious developers often overpay for land because they believe one or both of the following.  The market will remain robust or, no matter what they pay for the land, they can dupe, cajole and otherwise persuade local elected officials to increase the allowable development so much on the property in question that what they paid for the land becomes irrelevant.

The latter is clearly taking place with a proposal to redevelop the old Smoketree Resort in Paradise Valley.  For years the family that has owned the site has maintained an exorbitant price to buy it.  That’s why it has fallen in and out of escrow so many times.  The latest group to take a run at redevelopment is Geneva Holdings, despite having no experience in the hotel business.  

Because they have, or are, overpaying for the land so substantially they are asking Paradise Valley officials to approve what would appear to be the densest project in the history of the community.

That’s a big ask.  Especially, when the relevancy to neighborhoods and town coffers is miniscule.  Contrast this with the urgency created by a closed Mountain Shadows that threated immediate neighbors and a beloved golf course.  Or the Ritz-Carlton which will fill town coffers and put a nail in the coffin for any future discussion about a town property tax.  Or even the old La Posada which basically became a flop house at the town’s most significant intersection before becoming Montelucia.

Conversely, Smoketree is largely surrounded by successful commercial properties and whatever it generates in tax revenue is largely irrelevant to the Town’s budget.  Whether it is redeveloped or not makes no difference to Paradise Valley’s future.

But it does to the bottom line of the property owner and an inexperienced hotel developer that paid too much for the land.

This should not be the concern of Paradise Valley’s politicians.  Just because a developer has been trying hard for a while doesn’t mean abandoning principles.  Inertia is not a rationale for a wayward proposal.  

The Smoketree application stands in marked contrast to its next door neighbor:  The Andaz Hotel.  Once the site of a struggling Cottonwoods Hotel, not unlike The Smoketree, The Andaz redeveloped as a low-scale hotel and has won travel awards across the country.  Likewise, The Hermosa Inn has redeveloped similarly over the years and earlier this month was recognized by no less than Conde Nast as one of the best small hotels in America.

But because of the economics of The Smoketree deal neither the developer nor the property owner want to go down this path. This is where a necessary, steely spine of the Paradise Valley Planning Commission and Town Council needs to come in.

We just approved the densest project in the history of Paradise Valley!  We bailed out a developer! We don’t think that’s a recipe for community acclaim.

To date, Smoketree developers have failed to communicate any rationale for their intense request.  Tragically, one of the people they once hired to help them do this subsequently got kicked out of other Paradise Valley hotels for accosting African-American guests and calling them the “N” word.  Nice judgment.

This is a development application worthy of ongoing attention.  The next town elections are less than two years away and voters will deserve to know who contorted the community’s character while also providing bank and bucket for an irresponsible developer.  This is going to be a fascinating one to watch.  Stay tuned.