Stopsdale? How About Phoenixdale?

Time-after-time, the Scottsdale Republic proves how irrelevant it is to civic dialog. This morning’s article entitled, “City works hard to change ‘Stopsdale’ to ‘Gotown” reads much more like a Lane-for-Mayor campaign press release rather than real journalism.

The article leads off with

In his 2009 inauguration speech, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane pledged to take a fresh look at the city’s regulations, promising to cut some of the red tape that was hindering businesses and devel­opers.

My calendar says it’s almost 2013. Where was Lane from 2009 until now?

Lane, who is behind an ongoing effort to investigate and improve the city’s reg­ulations and permitting processes, said the “Stopsdale” name was born out of “tough standards, tough staffs and the council,” which have changed over the years.

Lane is right on both counts. Scottsdale historically has had high standards, and those standards have changed in the last couple of years. In fact, they have been lowered more dramatically on his watch than any previous administration. As former city council candidate Chris Schaffner has said frequently, no organization has ever flourished by dropping its standards.

Note that the entire first page of the Republic piece is devoted to developers rather than real, sustaining businesses. Naturally, the pro-development lobby (which initially opposed Lane vigorously), now backs him 100%.

Rick Kidder, president and CEO of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce, said…the city’s planning de­partment, which is smaller than it was during the construction boom years, has done “an incredibly good job of helping to shepherd projects through quickly.”

One reason could be the city’s hunger for new projects and the revenues that come with them, as well as fewer de­mands placed on planners after develop­ment took a hit during the downturn, Kidder said.

“At the same time, I think the City Council has been extremely good at mov­ing through the approval process to al­low projects to begin,” Kidder said [emphasis added].

If it’s not bad enough that we (Scottsdale’s elected leaders) have dropped our development standards into the basement…

“When it comes to the permitting process and development-review proc­ess, we could do a better job at speeding things along so that shovels can get in the ground,” [Kidder] said.

So, you can guess what we have to look forward to in the New Year.

Zoning attorney Lynne Lagarde, who has represented Mark-Taylor, JEMB Realty Corp., owner of the Galleria, as well as other local clients, said her expe­rience is Scottsdale “has worked very hard to make their process more user friendly.”

Lagarde said she believes the shift be­came noticeable since Lane took office four years ago.

“I think he does deserve credit for re­zoning that and trying to bring change,” she said.

I believe there are still other things that can be done, particularly when it comes to infill or redevelopment pro­jects,” Lagarde said.

We have a rough couple of years ahead of us, until the slim hope that the next city council election will bring a more balanced (i.e., less overwhelmingly eager to ditch Scottsdale’s traditional high standards in favor of developer campaign contributions) membership to that body.

At least toward the end of the article, the writer included a quote from someone who recognizes the value of high standards:

Still some residents and other stakeholders fear the efforts to expedite processes and other moves puts a damper on the city’s quality of life and can circumvent written rules while leaving out the the opportunity for residents to comment further.

“Clearly written procedures for new projects should provide the high standard and predictability for the developer on how and what to build in a zoned area,” said Sonnie Kirtley, a longtime Scottsdale activist and chairwoman of the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale, which supports “consistent land-use policy and protecting our unique quality of life.”

“Today, nearby homeowner concerns focus on city staff actions that circumvent written procedures without further public hearings and notification,” Kirtley said. “Specifically, the assigned staff, called zoning administrator, can make some significant project change approvals without the Planning Commission, Development Review Board, City Council or public input.”

I can’t resist closing this article with the Republic’s final quote:

We obviously have a quality community that wants to make sure those how come in are following the rules,”  [City Councilman Dennis] Robbins said. “It sometimes seems like it’s burdensome, but really in the end it makes the whole business community better.”

Well, that IS the idea behind planning, zoning, and high standards. It’s too bad that Robbins has voted in the affirmative every single time an item is presented to the Council to lower our standards.

By the way, credit for the term “Phoenixdale” goes to astute Scottsdale political observer Mark Stuart.

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