Sunday, May 1, 2011

Scottsdale City Council approves revised Blue Sky project

Blue Sky
Artist's rendering of latest iteration of Blue Sky apartment complex on Scottsdale Road north of Camelback Road.

After several months of delays and objections, Scottsdale gave approval this week to a proposal that will add more than 700 luxury apartments to the city's downtown area across from the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall.

Gray Development Group won Scottsdale City Council approval Tuesday for its Blue Sky apartment complex proposal on a 5-2 vote.

The council endorsed amended development standards and a site plan to allow Gray to develop the three-building complex northeast of Scottsdale and Camelback roads, with a maximum building height of 128 feet, more than 20 feet lower than the tallest buildings that now exist in the area.

Vice Mayor Bob Littlefield and Councilman Ron McCullagh cast the only no votes.

"This is just the same old story, over and over," Littlefield said. "It's tall, dense apartment buildings, there's nothing new about it. This isn't going to make the residents of Scottsdale any better off."

The proposal was facing a legal protest from Triyar Properties, which owns the retail center on the northeastern corner of Scottsdale and Camelback, just south of the Blue Sky property. That would have forced a supermajority vote of 6-1 for council approval.

However, negotiations between Gray and Triyar resulted in the protest being lifted just before the start of the council meeting.

"Everything we did was to lower heights and create more interesting architecture, but the site plan didn't change and the floor-area ratio didn't change," said Brian Kearney, Gray's chief operating officer.

Littlefield also was critical of the constant changes to the proposal, which continued until just before the meeting, and said the council was being rushed into approving it without knowing all of the specifics involved.

"It's just a bad project and even if you love it, the process is bad," he said.

Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp said downtown businesses have suffered the past few years because not enough people live in the area.

"We have a good project that should be approved by this council," she said.

McCullagh said the primary issue is the scale of the project relative to the site on which it would be built. He also said the council hasn't been given the documentation necessary to accurately gauge the scale of the project.

"Given what we have, I won't support it," he said.

Gray submitted two different site plans for the complex, and asked the council to approve one of them, which includes amended development standards on 4.3 acres.

The site plan calls for two buildings along the eastern side of Scottsdale Road north of Camelback Road and another near the Arizona Canal. It envisions 749 apartments, and a maximum building height of 128 feet. It also includes 43,000 square feet of street-level retail space, a 27,000-square-foot recreation center and 1,350 underground parking spaces.

The complex will house Gray's corporate headquarters and Bruce Gray, its chairman, will live there, Kearney said.

Councilwoman Lisa Borowsky presented several conditions before she voted for the project:

- Gray provides at least 20 percent of funding for improvements to pedestrian connectivity between the eastern and western sides of Scottsdale Road as determined by a study also being funded by the developer.

- Gray obtains permits to begin construction within 24 months.

- The council has final approval of Gray's design plan.

- Sidewalk improvements made by Gray match existing sidewalk patterns in the area.

- Council approval of amended development standards is tied to this specific site plan.

The council amended its motion to include all of Borowsky's stipulations, and voted for approval.

Gray, who was at the meeting, agreed to all of the stipulations, but said obtaining the funds necessary to start construction within 24 months might be a struggle.

The company obtained an equity partner that committed $170 million to the project several months ago, Gray said. The long delay may make it difficult to convince this partner to follow through on that investment, he said. "If I had my way, we'd be moving dirt in a week," he said.

Numerous residents testified before the council either in support of or in opposition to Gray's proposal. Ace Bailey, president of Ultimate Art & Cultural Tours, said the issue is about what's best for Scottsdale as a whole, and that the city can either be "positive and progressive, or stagnate and die."

"Downtown Scottsdale really does need to grow up," she said.

Liz Dawn, who lives behind the Blue Sky site, said she and other homeowners in her neighborhood are "vehemently" opposed to the project and asked council members not to "compromise" their integrity.

"Homeowners directly behind the site . . . will be decimated by this monstrous project," she said.

by Edward Gately The Arizona Republic Apr. 27, 2011 12:34 PM

Scottsdale City Council approves revised Blue Sky project

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