This “My Turn” column from Councilman Bob Littlefield appeared in last Saturday’s Scottsdale Republic.
I only disagree with Bob on one point: The economic downturn wasn’t the cause of shortages in funding our “unfunded infrastructure needs.” The cause was Mayor Jim Lane and the city council not compensating for the downturn by tightening up discretionary spending, much of which is in the form of subsidies to cronies and favored special interests…and it continues even today in the form of millions of dollars in subsidies for golf, for example.
Naturally you can’t find this on AZCentral, so here it is:
Time for Scottsdale to grow economically, not developmentally
It seems not a day goes by that we don’t read or hear some pro-development type proclaiming that Scottsdale must “grow or die.” Unfortunately these folks are confusing the issue by mixing economic growth and real-estate growth.
Scottsdale certainly needs economic growth. The economic downturn of the last few years left the city with a backlog of unfunded infrastructure needs. If we want to maintain the services and amenities that help make Scottsdale such a great place to live, without increasing taxes on our residents, we need to encourage more economic growth.
Unfortunately, most of what ends up in front of the City Council is not economic growth but high-rise real-estate growth, which actually makes our city poorer. When a big residential project is built, the city treasury gets some one-time construction tax money. However, the costs of accommodating that project (to fund city services, such as roads, water and sewer, and police and fire), exceed the revenues, and those additional costs last for decades.
The property taxes on the project don’t help because most of those dollars go to the school districts, not the city. Even our state leaders understand, in the words of the Arizona Commerce Authority, “the need for Arizona to wean itself off the booms and busts associated with the real-estate/development industry.”
Another cost of high-rise real-estate growth is the negative impact it has on the quality of life for Scottsdale residents. Height destroys views and produces a bland, generic urban experience that dilutes Scottsdale’s small-town look and feel. Higher density increases congestion. And increased height and density inevitably produce increased traffic congestion, noise and pollution.
To encourage economic growth, a community needs to play to its strengths, and Scottsdale’s biggest economic strength is tourism. That’s why in 2010 I supported a 2 percent increase in the bed tax, which is paid by visitors to our hotels and resorts, to fund projects that would put more “heads in beds” in those hotels and resorts.
Since that passed, I have supported spending that money to expand the Tony Nelssen Equestrian Center and to build the Museum of the West, both projects that will bring new tourists (and their dollars) to Scottsdale. And I support using some of that money to fund the idea from Councilman Guy Phillips to buy Reata Pass and turn it into another new tourism destination. These projects are the kind of growth Scottsdale needs, not more high-rise, low-rent apartment buildings!
The formula that made Scottsdale the Valley’s No. 1 tourist destination is the same that made it the No. 1 place to live: high standards for design, development and code enforcement, lots of open space, unobstructed views of our stunning natural landscape, low density and Western character.
If we let a few shortsighted developers cheapen Scottsdale’s special character for their own short-term profit, we will lower our quality of life and we will hurt our economy by making our city less attractive as a tourist destination. We can’t let that happen.