Sunday, September 16, 2012

Scottsdale council approves contentious Echo at Windgate condos

Todd & Associates An artists rendering of the proposed Echo condominium project near Bell Road and Thompson Peak Parkway.

The Scottsdale City Council Tuesday cleared the way for a two-story condominium project that nearby homeowners say is too dense and intense, and will decrease their property values.

Deco Communities, formerly Starpointe Communities, plans to build Echo at Windgate, a 13-building complex with 104 condominiums on a nearly 11-acre site that wraps around the Windgate Crossing shopping center northwest of Bell Road and Thompson Peak Parkway. Residents of nearby Windgate Ranch remain opposed to the project.

After a lengthy hearing that included nearly 40 public comments, the council voted 5-2 to approve a non-major General Plan amendment, rezoning and the termination of a previous development agreement with the city for the site.

Windgate Ranch homeowners filed a legal protest over the requested rezoning from commercial-office uses to multifamily residential. The protest would have forced a 6-1 supermajority council vote for approval, but was deemed insufficient after one of the homeowners rescinded their support.

Keith Niederer, senior city planner, said the letter alerting the city that the property owner had rescinded arrived at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, but had been signed by the homeowner on Aug. 26. Councilman Bob Littlefield, who voted against approval along with Councilman Ron McCullagh, said the developer's attorney "sat on" the letter until Tuesday so nearby homeowners couldn't do anything about it.

Littlefield said Echo at Windgate is just the another example of "a developer comes down here, hires an expensive zoning attorney and tries to convince the council to change the zoning so they can make a ton of money."

"All the neighbors are opposed and who are we representing?" he said. "There's unanimous opposition by the residents. They hate it and ... they believe it will bring down property values."

McCullagh said the lineup of public speakers could be divided between "people who stand to make money off of the project and the residents at whose expense it would be." The neighbors have a right to rely on what the city said would be the zoning for the property, he said.

Councilwoman Linda Milhaven, who made the motion for approval, said the buildings won't be as tall and the complex will be "less intrusive" than what's currently allowed on the property.

John Berry, a zoning attorney representing Deco, said the proposal is a "down zoning" from what would be allowed under the current zoning. He also said the complex would be "high-end" condominiums that would be larger and less dense than apartments, and that an appraiser hired by Deco concluded that the development would have a positive impact on nearby property values.

Zach Forman, a Windgate Ranch resident, said Charley Byxbee, the seller of the property, failed to disclose a development agreement with the city that limits the density of the project. He also said Starpointe Communities abandoned numerous condominium projects before becoming Deco.

"How about Deco clean up the mess they made before moving on to another?" he said.

The 2005 agreement capped the allowable development on the parcel so the use of the property would be consistent with the developer's share of the cost for infrastructure, according to the city planning staff.

Residents argued the agreement clearly stipulates an 80,000-square-foot maximum for development, while the rezoning would allow 168,878 square feet. Berry said development agreements are not written for "the average citizen," which drew laughter from Windgate residents.

Byxbee said the residents are attempting to block a viable development and that economic recovery requires private investment, which will generate more taxes for the city and increase retail leasing activity.

Berry said a $250,000 fee for infrastructure has already been paid and all conditions have been met, so the agreement should be terminated. The council's vote terminated the agreement, which was set to expire in 2015.

Project supporters included the North Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce, McDowell Mountain Ranch Vendors,Bashas' Vice President Johnny Basha, Ice Den President Mike O'Hearn, real estate agents and business owners.

by Edward Gately - Sept. 5, 2012 The Republic |

Scottsdale council approves contentious Echo at Windgate condos

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