Apartment Plans Fuel Scottsdale’s Growth Debate

Article originally posted on HERE on September 14, 2021
Apartment plans
The proposed 9400 Shea project and an adjacent apartment complex plan are adding fire to the debate over growth in Scottsdale.

Despite outcry from some city residents, development projects with approximately 835 apartment units are under immediate consideration by Scottsdale city officials. 

The controversial Greenbelt 88 project, which proposes 278 apartments and 25,000 square feet of retail space where the aging Lucky Plaza shopping center currently stands near the intersection of Hayden and Osborn roads was approved by the Planning Commission and is headed to city council Oct. 5.

Council will consider on Oct. 19 the 9400 Shea development, which calls for 219 apartments just east of 92nd Street and Shea Boulevard.

“It’s important to understand something is going to be built there,” Councilman Tom Durham said during the Aug. 24 council meeting, noting the area is already zoned for a four-story commercial office building anyway.

Developers also have a rezoning request scheduled for the Planning Commission’s Sept. 22 meeting for a development that would back up against the 9400 Shea project with 338 apartments in five or six story buildings.

“Everybody who lives here (in Scottsdale) owes a developer for the building you live in,” Durham said during the Aug. 24 meeting.

But residents like Bob Pejman feel the projects combine into too many apartments in too tight a space with buildings that are too high.

“Each is done in a vacuum but the net result is one big, (557)-unit development,” Pejman said of 9400 Shea and the adjacent property.

When left between the choice of commercial office space or apartments at the 9400 Shea site, Pejman would choose the offices.

“It has been suggested by the applicant and councilman Durham that if the residents stop the proposed rezoning from a commercial office to multifamily, the present zoning allows for a medical office, which can result in more car trips and an increase in traffic,” Pejman said.

“I actually believe that a medical office, if built, provides valuable and much needed services for the community and, unlike apartments, it does not create nighttime and weekend traffic. So, any possible increase in traffic during business hours can be justified by its benefits.”

Resident Susan Wood, who operates the protectscottsdale.com website, worries that Council has already made up its mind on projects that people were not well informed of and that will create too much traffic.

“You’re going to tell me that a 1,000 new people moving in there is not going to create any new traffic?” Wood asked of the Shea projects.

But Arizona Multihousing Association President/CEO Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus says developers are doing nothing more than responding to an urgent need. Below is a series of questions the Progress posed to LeVinus and her responses:

How bad is the need for housing in Scottsdale?

Scottsdale has multiple positives, together they translate into a need to build homes. The city has always been an emblem of excellence, a place people want to live. At the same time, Scottsdale has a resilient economy.

This engine continues to attract major employers and the professionals they employ. As population growth continues, that drives the demand for new housing.

Also, it’s important to understand how the law of supply and demand drives the need to build new homes. Here in the Valley – and in Scottsdale – housing costs keep surging. …People moving to Scottsdale is a positive: Their tax dollars help fund public safety, schools, roads and quality of life.

But if we don’t have a housing supply to meet the demand, then the cost of housing skyrockets. That can price out long-time residents unable to afford the cost of even a modest home.

How many apartments are enough?

There’s no magic number. Again, it’s a question of balancing supply and demand, of meeting what the market dictates. When there’s a balance between available homes and people who want to live in them, then housing prices stabilize. At the same time, cities need the full range of housing options.

One thing we’ve learned demographically over the past few years is that many high-earning individuals and families prefer apartment living.

For them it’s a lifestyle choice, because renting is less commitment than owning a home. They also like being “near the action” in places like Old Town or Kierland.

Why should that need be answered with high-density apartments complexes? Why not lower density projects? Why not single-family homes?

There is no “should” here. Again, the people who live in cities seek out different types of housing. Some people want to live in a single-family home with a view of the McDowells. Others want to live in a high-rise near Fashion Square so they can watch the sunset over the Valley.

Scottsdale has always encouraged a diversity of housing options in different price ranges in different areas of the city. That’s one of the things that make Scottsdale the lifestyle leader it has been for decades.

Specific to high-density housing, there’s another point to consider: Because land is prohibitively expensive, the increase in density can help a project pencil out for a builder. Making a project financially feasible is passed along to residents in the form of rent savings and better amenities at a more reasonable price.

 The apartment projects being built in Scottsdale are not “affordable housing” units, so how do you justify their need?

Scottsdale has always been a special city, a welcoming place that offers housing options for people at all income levels and who seek out different lifestyles, from living on a sleepy cul de sac to living within walking distance of nightlife. That’s a good thing, in large part because these homes and residents drive the city’s economy.

You seem to want a justification beyond the simple need that people continue to move to Scottsdale, which requires new homes. Consider the meaningful impact these residents make on the small businesses that add to Scottsdale’s quality of place.

Last year, the city issued 803 new business licenses. The most popular new businesses? Beauty salons and personal care businesses, full service restaurants and doctor’s offices.

Each of those small businesses depends on the individuals and families who live nearby for customers. When we accommodate the people who want to move to a neighborhood – when we literally build them a home – they bring their spending power to the local economy. That helps small businesses, in turn generating tax dollars for improved city services.

Where is the line between what the city should regulate and where it should allow the market dictate development?

Scottsdale is a unique community – in its desirability, its character, and the type of housing the city attracts. No one wants that to change.

Scottsdale attracts the Valley’s best developers, who design and build some of the best communities in the state and the Southwest. One reason for that is the city’s rigorous design review process, which puts projects through a review led by world-class architects and engineers.

Developers who plan to build in Scottsdale seek it out because they want to embrace that challenge. They want to build legacy projects – homes that make residents proud and that keep Scottsdale special.

We need a delicate balance between those government mandates and what the free market dictates. Too much regulation and new homes don’t get built.

 That creates a massive spike in housing costs, which prices out longtime residents and can kill the economy. The last thing anyone wants is for Scottsdale to stall its economic engine and for the Mayo Clinics, Axon and Nationwides – the big employers of professionals – to start moving elsewhere.

What would you say to property owners who are worried apartment renters don’t invest in their neighborhoods?

People who choose a neighborhood have more things in common than not, and that’s the case whether they buy a home or rent one. Their kids go to schools, or play on Little League teams together. They spend their paychecks at local businesses, and every dollar helps the city’s economy.

There are dozens of studies that show how new rental homes improve quality of life – how they fund better schools, better public safety and better roads and infrastructure. This is especially true in Scottsdale, a city that attracts the best projects measured against the highest standards.