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!
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:
- Zocallo Residential apartment project on the site of Barcelona just north of Scottsdale Quarter,
- Scottsdale Airpark Community on Hayden near Costco, and
- 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.
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!
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.