How About An Airpark Entertainment District?

It’s an unconventional idea, granted. But hang with me. First, consider this statement about zoning:

Zoning is the mechanism by which city planning separates incompatible land uses.

Then think about the importance of such separation. It’s absolutely essential for harmonious growth in any community. For example, you don’t want a senior center next to a factory, or a nightclub across the street from a neighborhood.

Yet that’s exactly what has happened in the case of the so-called “entertainment district” centered south of 75th Street and Camelback, as described in my prior posts Noisy Neighbors and Noisy Neighbors 2 (heck, I might turn these into a movie trilogy or something).

The city’s planning staff and the City Council have allowed (some would say “encouraged”) an area of restaurants and offices – along with a few bars – to morph into one of the highest concentrations of bars and nightclubs in the state.

And all this is right across the street from one of the oldest residential areas in Scottsdale.

[If you want to know more about zoning and city planning in Scottsdale, check out our “Tomorrow” tab for a discussion of the General Plan and how it is supposed to guide us…when it is followed.]

Watch Out, Scottsdale Airport!scottsdale-airport

At the same time, city staff is pushing for residential entitlements for property owners and developers in the Scottsdale Airpark.

Scottsdale Quarter already has some residential entitlement that was approved largely because staff bypassed the Airport Advisory Commission when that project was going through the approval process. Those residences have yet to be built.

Three new cases were just presented to the Airport Advisory Commission:

  1. Zocallo Residential apartment project on the site of Barcelona just north of Scottsdale Quarter,
  2. Scottsdale Airpark Community on Hayden near Costco, and
  3. CrackerJax which is seeking a “non-major” General Plan Amendment for residential entitlement, but has no pending zoning case.

The Airpark is one of the most important employment centers in the region (in spite of the abysmal vacancy rate brought on by the current economic climate). The Airpark exists because of the Scottsdale Airport, a small but absolutely first-class business aviation facility.

Enter The Feds

The Airport is considered first-class not just because there’s a lot of money going in and out of there, but also because of the synergy between that revenue stream and federal aviation grants for infrastructure, used for things like paving the runway. Those monies come with strings called “grant assurances.” One of the most important of those is the promise the City has made to protect the airport from incompatible uses…the biggest of which is residential.

Specifically, Grant Assurance Number 21, “Compatible Land Use,” says the airport sponsor (the City of Scottsdale):

…will take appropriate action, to the extent reasonable, including the adoption of zoning laws, to restrict the use of land adjacent to or in the immediate vicinity of the airport to activities and purposes compatible with normal airport operations, including landing and takeoff of aircraft. In addition, if the project is for noise compatibility program implementation, it will not cause or permit any change in land use, within its jurisdiction, that will reduce its compatibility, with respect to the airport, of the noise compatibility program measures upon which Federal funds have been expended.

Additional guidance language can be found in many FAA communications on this subject:

The FAA has a longstanding policy opposing residential encroachment on federally-obligated airports. One of the grant assurances an airport accepts as part of a grant agreement is to take proper action, to the extent possible, to restrict the use of land next to an airport to activities compatible with airport operations. This is codified at 49 U.S.C. Section 47107(a)(10)…

Over the years, FAA has issued grants totaling $1.8 billion to buy land and homes, relocate residents, and mitigate the impacts of aircraft noise with soundproofing. It would be counterproductive for FAA to continue this program and at the same time allow more homes to be built on or next to the airport. If an airport sponsor approves residential development on or next to its airport, the sponsor will lose its credibility in defending the airport before zoning authorities to oppose other proposed incompatible residential development near the airport.

Pending Dangers

Encroachment by residential uses (including single-family homes, condominiums, apartments, and even hotels) has been the death knell of many small and mid-sized (and even some big) municipal airports. These include airports in virtually every state, but nearby examples include the former Williams Air Force Base in the Southeast Valley, Santa Monica Airport, and Long Beach Airport.

For City Council and the city staff to be allowing (if not encouraging) developers to pursue residential projects within the “airport influence area” is tantamount to creating ongoing noise complaints in the future.

Intentionally co-locating incompatible land uses to the detriment of sustainability (trading away future, sustainable business and tourism revenue for immediate but non-sustainable development fees) is not only bad policy, it’s just plain foolish.

Better Idea for Airpark Development: Let’s Have a Party!

Rooftop Party at the W Hotel, Downtown Scottsdale | AZCentral photo

I propose another approach.

We’ve seen the fruits of these bad policies (or lack of good policies) in downtown Scottsdale. Clearly, creating the inverse – residential encroaching on noise, rather than noise encroaching on residential – in the Scottsdale Airpark will be even more detrimental.

Instead, let’s create an ‘entertainment district’ in the Airpark on these parcels to “jump start” economic development in the Airpark!

Nightclub patrons aren’t going to be bothered by jet noise or helicopters. They will likely not even hear them. You could also have unlimited open-air rooftop party space, something that has created real headaches downtown. You won’t have bar patrons parking in neighborhoods, because there’s plenty of parking in the Airpark. One of my associates even suggested that a boutique event venue could be incorporated into these plans.

You might recall that Barcelona, which is now the target of a residential mixed use proposal called Zocallo Residential, wasn’t successful. Perhaps you’d ask “Why is this plan any better?”

I don’t know the specifics of Barcelona’s business model or what went wrong. However, success in today’s nightclub economy is about critical mass. The same critical mass or concentration of bars in downtown Scottsdale that has made the area so popular would well serve a new entertainment district in the Airpark.

Maybe we could even talk some of the downtown bar owners into relocating northward! Stranger things have happened.


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  1. John,
    Why not move the entertainment district into the Preserve? That way, no one would be affected by the noise and disorderly conduct except the coyotes. They’d get a howl out of it, I’m sure. Before the Cactus huggers come looking for me, I’m only kidding.

    Seriously though, moving the entertainment district out of the Old Town area would be seriously detrimental…no take that back…it would be disastrous for downtown hotels, restaurants, and retail shops. You just can’t move something as established as the entertainment district is, somewhere else. Do you realize what you’d be creating…a new Mesa.

    I live downtown. Initially we had problems with the Valley Ho roof top venue…too much noise floating down on our Southwest Village neighborhood. We approached the hotel management and worked out a solution that was amicable to all. That’s what local residents living east of Scottsdale Road on Camelback need to do with club owners and hotels with club venues. Stop all this posturing and politicizing and get into direct talks. I’m sure that the club owners could be convinced it’s in their best interest to keep their doors closed and take measures to ensure that blaring musing doesn’t invade adjoining neighborhoods. City government isn’t going to be much help, except in facilitating better noise control among venues and enforcing parking restrictions that need to favor residents of the affected neighborhoods…like residential parking permits.

    What’s not needed is a local gym owner posturing for a future seat on City Council fanning the flames of discontent and inviting Sheriff Joe in, when our own police do a fantastic job.

    The key to the problem is not moving entertainment from its current location. It’s what we have so little of not only in this community but throughout our nation…dialogue.

    I’m all for development of the airpark district. It’s a great facility but it lacks the charm that draws so many to the old town area. I’m for more businesses and expansion of air services. It would be great if another runway was permitted to be implemented, but it won’t be.

    John, if you want to throw a party…do it in the entertainment district.

  2. Hi, Mike, appreciate your comment.

    I experienced the ‘joy’ of the Downtown entertainment district (DED?) long before Bill Crawford complained about it. I’m all for reasonable nightlife, but what’s going on now is significantly different than the classy entertainment for which Downtown was previously known.

    I’ve also witnessed firsthand most of the activities (except the naked women running down the street) to which Crawford is now objecting. Not cool.

    I do appreciate that Valley Ho has improved, but there are many venues on the other side of Scottsdale Road who have had plenty of time to follow suit…but they have not. And I’m not suggesting that city government force anyone to move. I’m just saying that there’s less conflict for this type of activity (and more intense entertainment activity) in the Airpark than in Downtown.

    Just like with development, the choice isn’t all-or-nothing. It is quality-vs-quantity.

    1. John,

      Too bad about missing the naked women running down the street. Hell! Maybe the DED could devleop it into an annual event like they have going on in Pampalona, Spain? I’m sure they’d get a great turn out.

      Me thinks for a young guy you may be a bit over the top in the straight lace department. With all that virtue, I’ll bet you’re a Republican? Too bad. Lighten up and enjoy life.


      1. Oh, I’m all for naked women running down the street…but not necessarily down the street where I live. I don’t think I’m Republican…but I’m not really sure anymore what that means. I’d call myself a Libertarian, but those guys are pretty whacky.

  3. Hi Mike & John!

    Strongly agree with Mike on DED! Old Town area was rightly smacked for being boring and void of traffic with many empty buildings. DED has shifted 180 degrees and is part of our cache including the good, bad & ugly behaviors…

    Boots on the street are needed as the Airpark goes vertical over the next 20 years. This will happen and is reality. All cities large and small want to have ‘live, work, play’ in close proximity. The Horizon neighborhood to the east and 85254 to the West are both major feeders to jobs in the Airpark but are built out and not enough. Do we want more traffic by having people commute from further away? Residential units make sense located around the LWP concept given presence of the Quarter and Kierland. Both will benefit from more boots in walking distance.

    About the noise, ever live in NYC? If one chooses to live near an airport, one must be willing to accept the consequences, including aircraft noise. The Airpark area is our #1 future economic engine and will benefit greatly from having residential options.

    P.S. Barcelona had a great run and Zoe Bowie is making a fortune now working in Lost Wages. It failed because Danny went broke not due to lack of interest or other venues. Why would Eddie V’s move in at the Quarter if location was the problem…?

    Happy days!

  4. Thanks for the comment, Bill, and for the insight on Barcelona. I’d thought I’d heard that before but didn’t want to post it without confirmation.

    I will, however, take issue with the ongoing contention that ‘cities want live/work/play.’ I think CITY PLANNERS and DEVELOPERS want LWP, because they can make money off the concept in areas where existing residents are willing to accept redevelopment.

    With regard to the DED, I’m in and around Downtown every day. I’ve never seen more vacancy signs. I’ll bet your favorite bottle (other than Dom) that downtown vacancy rates are at or near the all-time high. The DED has been very good for a very select few property owners, but surrounding property owners are suffering. Business users aren’t willing to tolerate the disruption and cleanup that go along with being in the DED.

    And no, I’ve never lived in NYC. But, I’ve visited there, as well as Mexico City, Tokyo, LA, and many other areas in which I would NOT want to live. I moved here because of Scottsdale’s urban amenities within a low-scale, suburban-rural environment. I think most other residents moved here for the same reason. It’s what makes Scottsdale unique more than almost any other characteristics. I think it should be up to those residents (not planners or developers) as to whether we are going to discard that model and live with the consequences.

    The bottom line, in my humble opinion, is that the Airpark is a much better place for high-intensity entertainment activity, and a much worse place for low-intensity residential uses.

  5. I enjoyed reading this article as well as the thoughtful comments that followed.

    First, I could not agree more that zoning is about separating incompatible uses.

    As far as Live/Work/Play in close proximity. I agree as well. However, it is clearly apparent I (and evidently most Scottsdale residents) define close proximity very differently than our planners. Close proximity to me is a short commute. Close proximity to our planners means I step out of my apartment and report for work in the office downstairs. And, when I need a little night life I go next door to the night club. While that might be an exaggeration, it is a modest one.

    I want to live in a neighborhood that is a RESIDENTIAL neighborhood only. That is, I want my son to be surrounded by low density family development with quiet, low speed streets. I want safe areas to play and socialize with other kids in very close proximity to home and parents. I want this separation for myself, too. I do not want to live amongst office buildings, bars, busy streets, bus stops, and parking lots.

    I am in Scottsdale because it has that lifestyle. If it is to be changed, It ought to be at the will of the residents. Too often in Scottsdale we make these changes not only without the will of the residents, but against it. I firmly object to that.

    I do not begrudge other municipalities for their lifestyle. I would never suggest New Yorkers clear buildings for more open space, spread out residences, or eliminate “multi-use” areas. I don’t expect them to follow the model that made Scottsdale great, anymore than I feel compelled to follow their model against the will of our residents.

    A bar district in the airpark? Maybe. It does seem more compatible than residences. If those residences go in, there is no doubt complaints will abound. The airport will face restrictions to current/future operations, and perhaps even have funding jeopardized. Worse is the disharmony and conflict that will no doubt result. It is awfully hard to live at the end of the runway. I did that once after college when it was all I could afford. Complaints will arise and they will gain in strength with time. Residents nor the airport need the battle…. And, the city certainly does not need the difficulty of refereeing a fight between the airport and possibly hundreds of residents.

    Perhaps John’s idea could be floated during the city’s meetings with the public for the GP update. If after careful consideration for the pros and cons, and plenty of citizen input, the idea makes sense and is supported by the public, I would be open to the change.

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