Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Scottsdale council OKs taller buildings for Safari Drive project

A divided Scottsdale City Council has approved the second phase of a condominium complex along the Arizona Canal north of Camelback Road that could include buildings more that 1 1/2 times taller than originally allowed.

In a 4-3 vote, the council approved ST Residential's proposal for the second phase of its Safari Drive condominiums. It includes amended development standards under the city's downtown infill-incentive district and plan, including:

- An increase in maximum building height to 105 feet from 65 feet.

- An increase in overall density to 55 units per acre from 50.

- An increase in the floor area of the buildings.

The divided vote reflected the ongoing split on the council over the impact of the infill-incentive district rules adopted last year, which has resulted in several proposals coming forward seeking greater height.

Mayor Jim Lane and council members Suzanne Klapp, Linda Milhaven and Dennis Robbins voted for approval, while Vice Mayor Bob Littlefield and council members Lisa Borowsky and Ron McCullagh voted against it.

Dan Symer, senior city planner, said ST Residential's proposal calls for "fairly minor changes" and includes such public benefits as a $100,000 contribution to public art, and additional landscaping and improvements along the canal.

The proposal was on the council's consent agenda, which requires a single vote for approval of several items without discussion. Littlefield requested that it be moved to the regular agenda so he could renew his objection to the infill-incentive district, which he said provides no real requirement for public benefits and instead is used for "blanket rezoning."

The infill-incentive district is just a "way to bypass all that has made Scottsdale special," he said.

The proposed height increase would make Phase 2 substantially higher than the first phase, which is approximately 60 feet. However, it would be hidden from Scottsdale Road behind Gray Development Group's Blue Sky apartment complex, which will have a maximum building height of 128 feet. Blue Sky was the first proposal to come forward seeking to take advantage of the district after it was adopted a year ago. The second phase of Safari would include 160 units in two buildings on 1.87 acres. The first phase includes 89 units in seven buildings on about 3 acres. The entire complex would include 515 parking spaces.

Geoffrey Edmunds, president of Geoffrey Edmunds & Associates, spoke on behalf of ST Residential. His firm is asset manager of Safari Drive for ST Residential.

"We think it's a great transition between the existing Safari Drive project and the Blue Sky project," he said. "We didn't try to push the envelope on the zoning. We kept the buildings pretty low and the density much lower because we thought that was the right thing to do."

John Washington, a Scottsdale resident, said the project would lead to traffic, water and sewer problems in the area.

McCullagh saidhe has concerns about whether the area has the infrastructure to support such a large project.

Borowsky said the infill-incentive district has been a disappointment and that modifications will be needed to ensure projects are geared more toward benefiting the public.

Milhaven, who moved for approval, said the public benefit will be no more "vacant lot across from Scottsdale Fashion Square" and that the current zoning is too restrictive for successful development of the property in the current economic climate. Klapp seconded the motion and said the public benefits offered are sufficient and that "there's no reason for me to want to delay the project."

However, Littlefield said the vacant-lot argument doesn't hold water.

"If you have a vacant lot and you can't develop it under the current zoning, that's a bad investment," he said.

Lane said that although he agrees with some of the concerns raised, the project is a "benefit to the city."

by Edward Gately The Arizona Republic Aug. 25, 2011 12:18 PM

Scottsdale council OKs taller buildings for Safari Drive project

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