Economic Growth vs. Real Estate Development

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.

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3 Comments

  1. Scottsdale can certainly accommodate a vibrant downtown which includes high rise buildings and beautiful open spaces like the preserve and luxury end houses on large lots. In fact it needs both. It needs a good mix of young and not so young creative people and a good business climate. It does not need the brand of being the a western outpost with cowboys and Indians running around. It needs to have the brand of a beautiful oasis in the desert that welcomes everyone. That brings me to my final and most important point. As of now, our political climate is a tourism killer. Our brand today is a cowboy town that only welcomes extreme right wing nutcases with a heavy dose of racism thrown in the mix. Is it any wonder our tourism numbers are down? Why would any one want to subject themselves to that?

    1. Thanks so much for the comment, David.

      I’d only argue that Downtown Scottsdale doesn’t need “high-rise buildings” in order to be “vibrant.” In fact, I believe Scottsdale’s special kind of vibrancy is hurt by high-rise housing projects.

      I’m not a huge fan of the motto, “The West’s Most Western Town.” I’ve advocated for over a decade for something more like, “The New Old West.” But I also believe that there are more important battles than arguing about the motto. It does help set the tone, though.

      Regarding the political climate, I think you are right that there are some “extreme nutcases,” and I’ve been attacked from BOTH sides for various attributes that are both accurate and not so accurate. I have no doubt that there are some racists among us, but there’s far more ignorance in-general…especially regarding local issues and the real motivations and dynamics behind Scottsdale politics.

      However, the real divide is between those who leverage our cache and appeal by developing to meet demand, thus keeping property values lower; vs those who want to leverage through tourism, adhering to the wisdom of Scottsdale’s General Plan land use guidance, and keeping property values and quality of life high.

      Again, thanks for your comment.

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