Scottsdale Mayor, Council Seek Old Town Solutions

By Melissa Rosequist | Scottsdale Independent

As more people, cars and buildings flock to Scottsdale Road, questions are being asked about the realities of the next era of Old Town.

Mayor David Ortega says there are “several mapping flaws” within the Old Town Character Area Plan, particularly related to building height, which are not being interpreted accurately.

Ortega was supported by some council colleagues, including Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield who questioned the long-term viability of Old Town Scottsdale.

“One of the biggest problems I have with increased density and height is we are losing the long-term viability because we are not putting in the infrastructure — the underlaying parts we need — to make it viable,” Littlefield said. “Our water supply? Do we have any real plans on how we’re going to keep water to 150-foot buildings and we build them, build them and build them?”

On June 22, the Scottsdale City Council heard staff presentations about the current area plan, and council members offered their opinions on the topic. Not all council members are supportive of reopening the plan, which was last updated in 2018.

“If we put too many barriers — and increase the cost of redevelopment too substantially — we will wind up with a very tired downtown with not enough people. At the end of the day, that will erode our sales tax revenue, threaten our low tax rate and property values,” Councilwoman Linda Milhaven said.

Although updated in the past decade, some council members believe residents don’t want what the plan represents.

Ultimately, Vice Mayor Betty Janik requested to crack open the document in August, after the council’s summer break, and offer potential plan amendments.

The Old Town Character Area Plan is a guiding document for the area that speaks directly to the tourist mecca’s attributes. The plan includes mapping what regulates where certain types of buildings and zoning can go.

Anchored by a multitude of local establishments, store fronts and art galleries, Scottsdale’s downtown area expands 1.3 square miles along Scottsdale Road, between Earll Drive to the south, Chaparral Road to the north, 68th Street to the west and Miller Road to the east.

Hodgepodged together is what local residents and tourists alike have come to love; the downtown area includes Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, art museums, Fashion Square Mall and the Arizona Canal, among many other well-known sites.

City staff created a presentation that illustrated approved hotels and multifamily housing — buildings with up to 150-feet in height — giving a visual representation of the next era of Old Town Scottsdale. Several buildings were part of the presentation that are not in current-day Old Town Scottsdale.

In general, the Old Town Character Area Plan includes three development designations — Type 1, 2 or 3 — that restrict building heights. The three levels are embedded throughout Old Town.

“If you return to the 2018 plan, one of the problems that is occurring is that the Type 1 is placed directly by Type 3 zoning — Type 1 and 3 are placed against each other,” Ortega said.

“If you look along Fifth Avenue you’ll see a strip there that’s maybe 48-feet wide, and how and why a map could have been evolved that way, and approved that way, is an obvious flaw in the system.”

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