City Favored Developers Over Residents?

Nah, can’t be true! Can it?

Scottsdale citizens, does any of this sound familiar?

“Character area” plans were meant to reflect a community’s vision for their neighborhoods.

But some…residents are saying their feedback on high density and apartments was ignored.

I can’t imagine that! Not in Scottsdale!

Obviously, if you’ve ever read anything on ScottsdaleTrails about the last decade of so-called city planning in Scottsdale, you know that I’m being highly facetious. But this is about…Tempe.

In a recent Arizona Republic article by Dianna Náñez, she quotes Tempe residents who are just beginning to catch on to the politics of city planning, which equates to the mathematics of campaign finance and contributions.

The Tempe City Council envisioned the character areas as a means to address years of feedback from residents who felt the city favored developers over residents. Council members have said it would be used to guide quality development decisions and to give developers an understanding, prior to submitting development proposals, of what a community wants for their neighborhood.

But Lisa Zyriek said the process, while well meaning, became a months-long fight to have her and her neighbors voices heard.

Clearly, Tempe residents are laboring under a misunderstanding about their City Council’s role in this. Whatever the Tempe city staff is cooking up would come to a screeching halt if their elected officials envisioned even a shred of responsibility to their constituents.

I’d bet you a Big Gulp that Scottsdale resident and Tempe city staffer Wendy Springborn and her cronies are driving this development train, just like Ms. Springborn was a key player in the hijacking of Scottsdale’s General Plan update process to the same end. And if the Tempe City Council really cared, they have the ability to put a stop to it, just like Mayor Jim Lane and the Scottsdale City Council majority could have with our planning debacle.

Zyriek said at the first Corona/South Tempe public character-area public meeting residents were told the sky was the limit. But they soon came to find out that there was no funding for amenities, like parks or a library, that residents hoped to see built in their community.

Tempe officials have said that while there may not be funding for certain amenities now, a character-area plan could serve as a tool during the budget process and help guide partnerships to attract desired amenities.

Zyriek said the biggest problems came when she and about 60 of her neighbors opposed high-density and apartment development in the business complex next to their Oasis community.

The fight started after residents living in Oasis noticed that a draft of the Corona/South Tempe character area plan noted the community’s preference for low density with the exception of the South Tempe Technology Center. The center houses the Discovery Business Campus, a sprawling commercial site just east of the Oasis neighborhood.

“I saw that and thought, “What? We didn’t want high density, or apartments, anywhere,” said Zyriek who had attended several of the neighborhood meetings to gain residents’ feedback for the plan.

Zyriek said she spent months communicating with Tempe community development officials, trying to have the Corona/South Tempe character area plan edited to include the accurate reflection of residents’ input on low density.

Zyriek said Ryan explained that the exception for the South Tempe Technology Center was in the plan because a part of the Discovery Business Campus was designated for higher density in the General Plan, which voters approved in May.

“She told us that we didn’t have to worry because the developer doesn’t have zoning for residential so they wouldn’t be able to build apartments,” Zyriek said. “She said we could fight that (residential development) down the road.”

Zyriek argued that Tempe residents were specifically told that regardless of what the General Plan said, the character areas would reflect the public’s vision for their neighborhood.

Zyriek said she wants the historical and public record to reflect residents’ opposition and support to certain growth, development or amenities, so the council could use the character-area plan as a tool when making decisions that would affect a community for years to come.

…Zyriek said Oasis neighbors knew if they didn’t get their opinions on low density and no apartments reflected in the character-plan now, they likely would be fighting the same type of battle with an apartment builder down the road.

Neighbors hope the character area plan will help prevent developers from seeking waivers for developments that are not aligned with residents desires for their character area. Moreover, she said, she hopes it moves the council to protect neighborhoods over development.

“This was supposed to be our plan, our chance to tell the council what we wanted in our neighborhood and what we didn’t want,” Zyriek said. “If you’re going to ignore us, then don’t say it’s our plan.”

Finally, when all else failed, in October she launched a neighborhood petition. About sixty residents signed the petition and dozens more had previously opposed high density at the Discovery Business Campus, she said.

“Once we put in that petition they started listening,” she said. “It shouldn’t take a petition to get our voices heard. The staff works for us. We pay taxes. We’re their boss.”

Obviously I agree with that statement, but good luck on getting the Tempe city staff and council to heed it. You have more than a decade of Scottsdale history to prove otherwise. If they can do it here, they can do it anywhere. The only solution is electing officials with a track record of fighting for your quality of life.

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