After nearly two years of planning and battles with neighbors, the controversial Greenbelt 88 mixed use development will become a reality – but not for a while.
Scottsdale City Council on Feb. 8 voted 5-2 to approve the project, which will include 228 apartments and 25,000 square feet of retail space where the Lucky Plaza shopping center now stands at the corner of Hayden and Osborn roads.
But embattled owner Todd Silver was forced to make further concessions to gain Council’s vote to rezone the land and allow the planned unit development on the site.
Council only voted to approve the development after Silver agreed to reduce the number of apartments from 238 to 228, cut the top fourth floor by another 30 percent and reserve 4,000 square feet of “flex space” for public use.
The project initially proposed 338 apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space in a five-story building.
However, neighbors led by Jan Vuicich formed a grass roots effort called Safeguard Scottsdale to stop the redevelopment of the 40-year-old shopping center.
Vuicich said the vote was somewhat of a victory, stating, “If we wouldn’t have spoken up, we would have had a five-story, 388-unit building.”
Silver altered the plan several times to accommodate neighbors, reducing the number of apartments, increasing the size of the retail space and lowering the building height on the 7-acre site.
“This is not a victory so much as a culmination of a pretty significant compromise,” said Jason Morris, an attorney representing Silver. “The compromise became a work in progress all the way through to the council meeting. The leadership on Council really threaded the needle. Councilwoman Janik’s amendment really threaded the needle as to concerns from the community.”
The approval does not mean the project is going up any time soon. Construction is scheduled to begin five and a half years from now.
Councilwoman Solange Whitehead asked if that timeline could be shortened to alleviate some of Scottsdale’s housing shortage problems but Morris said Silver’s hands are tied by leases with stores currently in the shopping center.
Vice Mayor Tammy Caputi and council members Solange Whitehead, Linda Milhaven, Betty Janik and Tom Durham all voted for the project with the stipulations.
Janik proposed the amendments reducing the fourth floor 30 percent and cutting the number of apartments.
“This is a very, very difficult decision,” Janik said. “There are good arguments on both sides. There has been a lot of compromise from the developer so I am going to be requesting we get more compromise from him.”
Whitehead further amended the approval by requesting the flex space be kept for public use.
Durham pointed to the housing shortage in Scottsdale as the reason for his vote of support.
“Last week, an apartment (web) site indicated that there was a 31 percent increase in rental rates in Scottsdale over the last year. That made us No. 3 in the nation.
“We were No. 3 and not No. 2 only because New York’s rental decline … provided them more upside to increase rental rates faster than Scottsdale. When you’re competing with New York, that’s not good.”
I added that because rental rates are so high, many people who work in Scottsdale don’t live in the city, increasing traffic.
Durham blamed the housing shortage in part on short-term rentals.
“We know we have about 5,000 units in short-term rentals and if we didn’t have those, we would have much more reasonable rents,” Durham said.
He also dismissed concerns by some who opposed the project over water usage, contending, “We are not in danger of running out of water in the near future.”
Caputi addressed every concern about the project that was raised.
“In terms of infrastructure our traffic department’s actually concluded Hayden road from McKellips to Indian school is over built,” she said.
She noted Silver has reduced most of the fourth floor so it is not visible from the ground and there are no homes in hundreds of feet from the center so views are not being obstructed.
“They’ve already brought density down 20 percent and increased open space,” Caputi said.
She also felt the city’s water supply could absorb the extra residents.
“If you believe that we make decisions that are best for our city, then it’s imperative that we approve this project as it’s been presented,” Caputi said.
“It checks all the boxes for quality, thoughtful development and resident input. If you’re worried about responding to loud voices who are unwilling to acknowledge our current reality or to compromise then you’ll vote no. I enthusiastically support this project.”
Ortega opposed the plan primarily on the grounds of its density, saying that 34 apartment units per acre goes against the city’s General Plan, which lists high density at 25 units per acre.
This sparked a brief argument between Morris and Ortega as each tried to talk over each other.
Milhaven noted, however, that if the project went against the city’s General Plan, city staff would have included that in their notes to Council.
But Ortega did not budge, declaring, “I cannot support this motion because it exceeds the … density limit that we should live by.”
I have added that Scottsdale does not have the water to support the new development.
“This entire council in mid-April is going to be looking at substantial water (rate) increases due to preparation of stage 2 (of the city’s Drought Mitigation Plan),” Ortega said.
Littlefield also cited water as a reason for her vote against the project.
“I know we have a water shortage here, we all know that,” Littlefield said. “We’re telling Rio Verde (Foothills) residents that we can no longer supply water to them on an on-going basis. They have to find water elsewhere. Currently citizens of Scottsdale are being asked to reduce their water usage by 5%.”
Littlefield said she didn’t want to limit apartments in the city.
“We are increasing apartments,” she said. “We have almost 10,000 apartments on the books already approved for development that have not yet been developed. We have to find water for those too.”
She noted those new apartments haven’t been enough to drive down rents.
Littlefield also said the project is too dense and will increase traffic too much.
“If we’re going to up this density to this extant, then we need to up the streets’ ability to handle the cars, the streets are old,” she said.
Supporters of the project showed up in person and on the phone in force. Only four of the 18 public speakers were against the project.
Alex McLaren said he was originally against the project but when he saw the fourth floor pulled back and the fact that eight units will be dedicated for workforce housing, it solved a massive problem for him.
He also noted the new building will face the greenbelt, whereas the current building backs up against it with loading docks and dumpsters.
“If you don’t approve this project, I think it’s going to give a signal that the city is not prepared to approve high quality development, which I think this is,” McLaren said.