Hidden Editorial: Building Height is a City Asset?

This editorial appeared in today’s Scottsdale Republic. I’ve inserted comments in bold.

Tall Crossroads East development should be a city asset

This is the exact kind of pro­ject that we have been wish­ing for months and years,” said one councilman. “It insults my intelligence that this would even find its way to the council,” said anoth­er.

Any guesses as to what they might have been talking about?

For all that’s changed in Scottsdale since last fall — a new city manager, a new city treasurer, a new addition to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve — the issue of development remains as com­bustible as ever, as Tuesday’s City Council meeting was a reminder.

In this case, Dennis Robbins and Guy Phillips were squaring off over a proposed development named Cross­roads East on 12 acres near Scottsdale Road and Loop 101.

Save for a nearby car dealership under construction, there is nothing on that land but windswept dirt and yel­lowed weeds.

Directly across Scottsdale Road, however, a gleaming shopping complex teems with visitors to its upscale gro­cery store, restaurants and high-end retailers. The juxtaposition is jarring — even more so when you realize the complex is in Phoenix.

At that intersection, Scottsdale is entirely upstaged by its supposedly scuzzier cousin to the west. Cachet, it turns out, will only get you so far when it comes to urban planning.

As with Councilman Robbins’ editorial on the same page of the Republic, this is a classic false equivalence. In essence, the editor is saying ‘We can’t have development unless we sacrifice our standards. In fact, the editor’s observation proves the opposite case. If sacrificing our standards would lead to competition with Phoenix across the street, Crossroads should have been an automobile dealership rather than a high-rise housing project. Then maybe it would have generated some REAL economic development in the form of sales tax revenue.

The proposed 97-foot-tall devel­opment would feature 187 units, reim­burse the city $9.2 million for infra­structure costs, and feature space for offices and businesses. More impor­tantly, it would replace empty land with a tax-generating complex of sufficient amenities and size to rival the one across the street.

Its size, however, proved predictably offensive to Phillips, whose outrage was compromised by the fact that he had to read from a prepared statement to make sure he remembered all of his objections.

“I’m talking about a nine-story band­wagon that everybody’s going to be jumping on now,” he added. “This is just a travesty.”

It is curious to me how the Republic keeps picking on Guy Phillips like a schoolyard bully picks on someone just because he doesn’t like the kid. It is even more interesting how they single out Phillips for reading from notes, when not 30 minutes earlier, Linda Milhaven read an obviously prepared statement defending the $4 million taxpayer subsidy to the private business that calls itself the Scottsdale Cultural Council.

While 97 feet is relatively tall — by Scottsdale’s standards, of course — it’s hard to imagine who would object to a structure of such height at that loca­tion. The most vociferous advocates for tight restrictions on building height argue that anything taller than three stories would obscure our view of the preserve.

One word: Henkel. On a site just down the road from Crossroads, Henkel Corporation (parent of Dial Corp.) build a new headquarters building about which the Republic itself said on December 9, 2008, “Dial’s new digs get mixed reactions.” Even architect Will Bruder called the almost-finished building, “An ugly duckling.” Unfortunately, it never made the transformation to swan, and it stands as a monument to why Scottsdale shouldn’t drop her development standards.

This particular development would block that view for exactly zero Scotts­dale residents. And because it’s bor­dered by two of the primary arteries in Scottsdale, it should make for a partic­ularly desirable place to work or live.

It may not block any views from residents’ HOMES, but it will–like the Henkel building–be a giant thumb in the eye for everyone who drives by on the freeway, and who previously enjoyed uninterrupted views of the McDowell Mountains and Scottsdale’s Preserve.

Fortunately, five council members agreed. Councilman Bob Littlefield dissented without comment; the run of 5-2 outcomes in development-related votes may rival Joe DiMaggio’s 56­-game hitting streak by year’s end.

Multistory residential development, when planned responsibly and execut­ed elegantly, is an asset to any city — just as Crossroads East will be to Scottsdale.

This is about the dumbest statement I’ve heard this year. It has been proven time-and-again that high-density housing projects consume more in public services than they return in economic benefit.

It will certainly be more attractive than the patch of dirt it will be built on, regardless of Councilman Phillips’ apparent conviction that nothing is better than something.

Another classic false equivalence: That opponents of a particular development project are opposed to all development. However, the Republic editor got it partly right. Nothing is better than a BAD something.

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