Apartment Bust

Parker Leavitt posted a story on AZCentral today, “Is Scottsdale getting too crowded?” Unfortunately, I think he’s asking the wrong question. As I said in a comment to Parker that fell to the editor’s sword: He should be asking what we (the existing residents) are getting in exchange for the quality of life we are giving up to all the new folks the developers want to bring in?

I’ve written on this many times before. But here’s my take on the current situation: I believe estimates are upwards of 10,000 units of apartment housing are somewhere in the pipeline [Parker only reports 6000 have been “permitted”]. Not enough of these are occupied yet for us to see any real impact so far.

But from what I can see (or anyone who has driven around town lately), the McDowell Road project, the one on Indian School Road, and the one on Goldwater are the closest to completion. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon (or a city planner) to see that intersections and streets in the vicinity of those projects are already strained.

But I’m not sure that’s our biggest concern. The principle of supply-and-demand dictates that these projects will flood an already soft market. Then even existing apartments may have to cut prices to compete for tenants.

That will inevitably soften the single-family rental market, which, in turn, will ultimately will affect the home resell market when investors can no longer reasonable get cash-on-cash return with the single-family rentals.

And down the road 6-8 years when Mayor. Lane and the current council members are long gone, lagging property values will erode our tax base and worsen the deficits we’ve run for the last few years…yes, in Scottsdale, which also has more per capita debt than Glendale, and a billion dollars in deferred infrastructure maintenance.

Like with most other issues in Scottsdale, “crowded” is relative. Crowded with traditional tourists is good. Crowded with bar hoppers is bad. And lowering our traditional high development standards to promote more crowding is ridiculous.

Our city planning processes have become a mechanism for extracting city council campaign contributions, rather than the studious evaluation of the benefits AND costs of increasing density (i.e., becoming “more crowded”) that they should be.

As to some of the specifics in Parker’s article:

The major difference in today’s growth, [Scottsdale city planner Adam] Yaron said, is that the new construction is primarily happening at “infill” locations — pockets of vacant land surrounded by existing development.

That’s not entirely true. In fact, it isn’t even mostly true.

Of the eight projects Parker cited in his article, five are redevelopment projects…i.e., preceded by demolition of other structures, rather than on “pockets of vacant land.”

Another little bowl of word salad comes courtesy of a longtime development cheerleader (and former private sector developer consultant):

Scottsdale Transportation Director Paul Basha said his department has received general complaints from the public about multi-family developments. The city typically responds by explaining that new residential construction leads to an increase in traffic volume but not necessarily congestion [emphasis added].

Nationally, a typical single-family home generates about 10 vehicle trips per day, compared to about six trips for a multi-family home, Basha said. Since there are obviously more homes per acre in an apartment complex than in a single-family neighborhood, the multi-family development indeed produces more traffic overall, he said.

On the other hand, congestion is reduced when people are driving shorter distances, which seems to be happening in Scottsdale as residents are living closer to work, entertainment and services, Basha said.

Basha has absolutely zero empirical evidence to support any of those assertions. What’s worse is that Mayor Jim Lane and the Scottsdale City Council have relied (or pretended to rely) upon this kind of bunk in continuing to approve projects that bust our development standards.

As usual, some of the best information that comes out of the Arizona Republic lately is in the reader comments attached to the articles.

John Steele says,

I used to visit 20 years ago and it was unique. Moved here 6 years ago and now it is basically like a suburb of LA.

They talk about the revenues from the apartments- not mentioning it is a one time shot of money. More people equals more city services–a couple of extra police officers would eat up the money made in less than 10 years. And I am not counting the extra city services needed. When the light rail comes, crime will increase.

Who makes the money? Developers, bankers and the so called Zoning Attorneys who really run this city. If we get a very aggressive Federal Government, then those apartments will house Section 8 recipients. It has happened all over the east coast and in the Midwest. Good luck with that.

And Kim O’Connor adds,

The one they are building near Scottsdale quarter looks like a huge cell block. Can’t wait to see what they charge to listen to planes and helicopters taking off.

On a personal note, my opposition to an adjacent project at CrackerJax was what Mayor Lane and the Council majority used as an excuse to fire me from the Airport Commission a few years ago…despite the fact that it lies under a VFR (visual flight rules) helicopter arrival reporting point that includes instructions, “Report Point CrackerJax, at or below 500 AGL (above ground level).”

If you are in the top floor of a one-hundred foot tall building, that means the egg beaters are passing overhead on their way to landing at Scottsdale Airport less than 400 feet over your head!

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1 Comment

  1. Have you ever read that little type on an advertisement for a product on TV? You know that little type that is hard to read even on an 80″ Ultra High Definition set? Well this is why Mr. Basha said that statement. If you want to get bored or educated about traffic flow go here.

    http://www.lic.wisc.edu/shapingdane/facilitation/all_resources/impacts/analysis_traffic.htm

    Ahh, you see this nifty table that can be ADJUSTED for a communities need. The key word is ADJUSTED. You see if you have three developers and they show up to our city shills, I mean council, and ask for more infill development. You know, to blot out the Sun. They get the permits. Now do they do this all at once? No. So Mr. Basha may be in the loop, maybe not. Heck, he may be getting coffee when they are in the building.

    So let us say he knows about one of these requests, so he looks at his parameters and says – well project X is below the threshold for McDowell so no further study needs to be done, go ahead Mr. Robber Baron Inc. Now the next two may not get the attention of Mr. Basha. If they do, I bet Mr. Basha is not keeping a LOG of the requests, IF he did he would soon see that the THRESHOLD has been EXCEEDED! Does he say something, NOPE. Heck as we all know he serves at the beckon call of the city council, NOT the public. Sad really. So we get the gridlock and the city council gets a puppet to toss about.

    Now Mr. Basha is an educated man, so he has some moldy old tome that says – McDowell Road can handle this with no problem, you folks are just worrying about nothing! I am the expert at traffic flow. See traffic went down! The longer commute? What longer commute? I just got you another bus line, quit complaining! Yes we need more people, so suck it up! Puppets get their strings pulled all the time, so can you blame him?

    People like Mr. Basha live in the world of Excel sheets, it is ideal traffic flow, not real world traffic flow. It is not reality, but some sick simulation that has not been adjusted since the dawn of time. But could he adjust them? YES. Will he? NO. You see to do that, he would have to go to the council and say – Um, you guys and gals are approving too much development and not enough infrastructure. I need more traffic signals and more left turn lights. Where is my infrastructure funds for that? Has Mr. Slime E Developer set aside funds for that? –

    Look I am from the world of IT. I had make things work, the customer could care less what some suit said. It was make this work now. There were millions of dollars being held up. The company was losing money every moment this was being delayed. Find the solution NOW, you don’t ask permission, you find solutions. So Mr. Basha, think like that, find the solution, stop asking permission and spreading the BS like we all don’t sit in the stew of your created gridlock. Cut the strings and use your noggin.

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