Phoenixdale

With apologies to Scottsdale citizen Mark Stuart for purloining his one-word prognostication about the future of our fair city, I’m going to reach back a week and reprint for you another hidden letter to the editor of the Apartment Republic by Phoenix city councilman and apartment czar Tom Simplot.

Like architect Perry Becker, ‘consultant’ and Jim Lane henchman Ray Ray Torres, editorial wunderkind Grant Martin, a disgraced Scottsdale neighborhood activist who shall remain nameless, and housing economics guru Dennis Robbins from the Scottsdale City Council, Simplot also misses the mark either by intent or by ignorance in his pile-on attack of freshman Scottsdale city councilman Guy Phillips.

First of all, Simplot’s suggestion,

“…that Scottsdale take a page from Phoenix…”

is laughably silly. The most desirable parts of Phoenix are the ones most like Scottsdale: They have the lowest density and highest zoning standards, like Encanto. The rest of Phoenix is a mess, which is why I don’t have any desire to live there. That’s also why Scottsdale is across-the-board a more desirable place to live than Phoenix. Yeah, let’s be MORE like Phoenix. Genius idea.

Beyond that out-of-context quote, the specific suggestion Simplot advocates–a stipulation for an expiration date on newly approved zoning–was clearly shown to be worthless this week by our own planning and zoning staff.

The Blue Sky housing project northeast of Scottsdale Road and Camelback–arguably one of the worst projects ever approved by the Scottsdale City Council–had just such a stipulation in place. As was just reported in the Apartment Republic [Blue Sky has met construction deadline], that stipulation has been constructively (pardon the pun) defeated even though the developer will face a perfunctory city council vote Tuesday night to legally remove it.

Further and to reiterate yet again, no one I know who has opposed recent housing projects in Scottsdale seriously believes that we should stop all construction of new housing. However, they universally oppose lowering Scottsdale’s traditionally high standards to accommodate projects of questionable economic worth.

Simplot’s ridiculous label of “luxury high-density housing” only serves to prove that zenith of irony is when it is unintentionally self-inflicted. Specifically,

In the Scottsdale area, the need for more luxury, high-density housing is demonstrated by the high rents, low concessions and low vacancies current­ly existing.

No Councilman Simplot, high rents, low concessions, and low vacancies don’t indicate “need.” They indicate “demand.” This demand was generated by Scottsdale’s desirability, which flows directly from our low-scale, low-density community character, and its appeal to residents as well as our economically beneficial hospitality industry.

Increasing housing supply to meet (or exceed) demand reduces property values for every residential property owner in Scottsdale. Perhaps you should brush up on your Adam Smith. I think they taught from Wealth of Nations at ASU, right?

I also happened to see an article in the PBJ recently in which former Apartment Republic reporter Kristena Hansen quotes Simplot,

Unlike home builders, apartment developers stay intimately involved in their projects long after construction in completed, he said.

“I loved how apartment developers became the community, and that’s just a different philosophy,” said Simplot, now 51. “I recognize the value of stability, which does relate to my upbringing. I was fortunate and blessed to grow up in a stable home and a stable community, and I want others to have that.”

Now that’s spin only a lawyer like Simplot could truly appreciate: Apartments bring stability to a community because apartment developers stay involved in their projects. Funny how Hansen let that one slide when she clearly knows better. The Biz Journal reports on sales of apartment housing projects all the time. You know we love you Kristena, but you didn’t get where you are by reprinting press releases from politicians.

Councilman Simplot, keep your Phoenix planning philosophies in Phoenix where they belong.

Here’s Simplot’s letter as it was printed:

Create tools, not opposition, to further new home development

In his recent “My Turn” in the Scotts­dale Republic , Councilman Guy Phil­lips makes two arguments that re­quire a response.

Mr. Phillips suggests that the Scotts­dale market is saturated with apart­ments because national statistics dem­onstrate the need for more affordable housing, yet implies that the luxury apartments under construction in Scottsdale are bad for the area. Mr. Phillips should review the statistics.

In the Scottsdale area, the need for more luxury, high-density housing is demonstrated by the high rents, low concessions and low vacancies current­ly existing. Construction occurs where there is a need, and the market is ea­gerly waiting for more diverse housing options in Scottsdale. Some of this pent­up demand is likely a market catch-up; between 2001 and 2011 there were no apartments constructed in Scottsdale south of Camelback Road.

You can’t have it both ways, Mr. Phillips. Yes, there is a need for affordable housing in Scottsdale, which is why financing tools like low-income tax credits and federal, state and city sub­sidies exist. Sadly, land is so expensive in Scottsdale that there have been few new affordable-housing projects in that city. Even if a devel­oper obtains financing and the needed subsidies, he or she then faces hostile neighbors, who are often fearful of those needing affordable-housing op­tions.

He also suggests that council votes are decided well before a City Council meeting. Perhaps Mr. Phillips is so new to his position that he doesn’t appreci­ate the need to vet large, community projects with staff and the neighbor­hoods prior to a vote. To design a legal­ly intricate development project takes literally months of work, costing, for some, hundreds of thousands of dollars. A simple rezoning? Hardly so.

Nowadays, with federal, state, coun­ty, and city laws and ordinances, rezon­ing requires an army of experts. The city of Scottsdale (much like the city of Phoenix and many other Arizona cities and towns), mandates citizen notice and participation. To suggest that these projects should first be vetted at a city council meeting is disingenuous at best, naive at the least.

Lastly, I suggest that Scottsdale take a page from Phoenix and stipulate that new projects be built within a certain time frame or face a reversion of the zoning designation. Phoenix faced a sea of vacant land stemming from the 1970s and 1980s, when land owners would upzone, then simply resell the land with the new, higher-valued zoning in place.

Beginning in 2003, the Phoenix City Council took a more aggressive ap­proach and placed stipulations on zon­ing requests to ensure a second bite of the apple should market conditions turn sour. With our recent history, that move alone has proven to act as a stimulant for new development in central and downtown Phoenix.

Don’t stop the building momentum, Mr. Phillips. Instead, create tools to preserve options for the future.

Tom Simplot is president and CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association and a Phoenix city councilman.

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