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Renata Cló Arizona Republic

Scottsdale voters this fall are expected to decide on a plan for the city’s growth, from how people travel around the city to how tall and close together buildings can be.

The City Council has discussed the plan in seven meetings so far this year, including taking up:

  • a vision statement for Scottsdale.
  • maintaining more rural areas.
  • protecting shorter, less dense building in parts of Old Town.
  • protecting the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
  • transportation needs.
  • how the city can support education.

The council is set to vote on a final draft of the plan in June but before then, residents can give input by participating in a virtual self-guided open housesubmitting written comments or speaking at any public meeting.

Arizona requires cities to create voter-approved general plans to guide growth.

Voters rejected the last plan the city put forward in 2012 by a 2% margin. Scottsdale Principal Planner Adam Yaron attributed its defeat to a community divide at the time regarding the city’s vision and values.

City Council members are spending a lot of time discussing the vision and values section of the plan this time around to broadly represent the entire community instead of focusing on the vision of one part of the city, Yaron said.

Here are six areas that council members have discussed.

Creating Scottsdale’s vision for growth

The vision statement describes Scottsdale’s character and includes community aspirations and values to guide decisions. The council has agreed to address Scottsdale’s Western heritage, diverse neighborhoods and prosperity in this section.BY COX BUSINESSConnect to your customersSee more →

Council members may still tweak the vision statement, but so far it reads:

“Scottsdale will continue to be an exceptional Sonoran Desert experience and premier international destination, where our Western heritage is valued. Our diverse neighborhoods foster outstanding livability, connectivity, healthy lifestyles, and a sustainable environment. Scottsdale will thrive by attracting and retaining business centers of excellence that encourage innovation and prosperity.”Get the Street Scout – Catherine Reagor on real estate newsletter in your inbox.

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North Scottsdale’s rural neighborhoods

The density of development in north Scottsdale has long been a contentious issue. The council is trying to address this concern by reviewing how the city would evaluate proposed zoning changes to these neighborhoods.

Council members initially expressed interest in creating a land use designation called Desert Rural, which would allow one dwelling unit per three or more acres. This land use would be separate from the city’s current category of Rural Neighborhoods, which allows one dwelling unit per one or more acres.

City Council is discussing creating a new land use in north Scottsdale, named Desert Rural Neighborhoods, identified in red in the map. This would be different from existing Rural Neighborhoods, identified in yellow.

The idea was to make it more difficult to get changes in density or city code approved in that area. For instance, such proposals would only be allowed to be heard once a year and approval would require a larger council majority, or five of seven votes. But the council removed those provisions after State Land Department Commissioner Lisa Atkins objected.

Yaron said city staff has been discussing the issue with the Arizona State Land Department, which oversees large swaths of land in north Scottsdale, and will update the council Tuesday on whether that was sufficient to offset its objection.

Less building height and density in areas of Old Town  

The plan addresses city character or visions for how various areas of the city should look. Mayor David Ortega proposed identifying a part of Old Town as the “Downtown Core.”

Contrary to the rest of Old Town, this area would have less density and shorter building heights. The plan describes this area as a “resident and tourist destination that includes downtown’s historic legacy and heritage, specialty retail, art galleries, restaurants, public art and the highest concentration of individually designated historic buildings found in the city.”

The area includes portions of Historic Old Town and the Scottsdale Arts District, along Main Street and north of Indian School Road, Marshall Way north of Main Street to Fifth Avenue, and portions of the Fifth Avenue Shopping District.

A vision for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Council members recognized the importance of including a vision for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve after voters fought to ban commercial developments in the 30,000 acres of desert in 2018. 

Scottsdale voters had approved a sales tax hike in 2004 to begin purchasing 19,000 additional acres of land for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. 

In the Open Space element of the plan, the council created a separate category to address the preserve. In it, the city acknowledges the land’sdual ownership, but leaves open the option that voters could increase taxes again for the city to purchase the remaining acreage. 

The plan includes guidelines to protect private-owned land in the preserve. It also recognizes that changes to the natural state of the preserve should be approved by voters, according to city code.

Transportation beyond automobiles

The council scratched language found in the 2001 plan saying automobiles will be the main mode of transportation in Scottsdale, but stopped short of including high capacity transit options, such as light rail.

Light rail connected three Phoenix-area cities — Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa — a decade ago, but Scottsdale has repeatedly opted against pursuing the transit option.

Some people who have helped draft the current Scottsdale plan had suggested adding mention of high-capacity transit options, but Councilmember Kathy Littlefield warned that residents would not support anything suggestive of light rail.

Ultimately there was no mention of light rail or high capacity transit in the plan while its latest version says, “While the automobile will remain an important means of travel in Scottsdale, the community must make land use decisions that strive to reduce the length and number of automobile trips.”

To achieve that goal the council added non-motorized options like walking, scooters and bicycles to its plan.

The city’s role in education

The council, for the first time, added a section to the plan on education, noting that the city doesn’t directly oversee education, but that it has an interest in educational outcomes.

The plan outlines ways the city can encourage lifelong learning for all residents, support education providers, collaborate with schools and support safe and healthy learning environments, including working with schools to “implement school campus safety, security, emergency, and contingency plans.”

Reach the reporter at rclo@arizonarepublic.com or at 480-267-4703. Follow her on Twitter @renataclo.