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The activation of Phoenix Grand Canalscape pursued through recent zoning approval at City Hall

photo of project coming to the Phoenix Grand Canalscape
Phoenix City Council Sept. 6 approved the rezoning of the 1.71-acre site found at the southwest corner of Central Avenue and Coolidge Street to make way for a project proposed to resemble the above graphic image. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
Phoenix Grand Canalscape along Central now site of innovative canal development
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Taking a stroll along the Scottsdale Waterfront and one quickly realizes the socioeconomic opportunities that can sprout when a municipality takes concerted steps to activate the spaces along an urban canal.

Members of Phoenix City Council have envisaged a similar, multiple use urban oasis along what locals call ‘the Grand Canalscape Trail,’ whereas a recent zoning approval earlier this week, supporters contend, will become a key to the activation of the grand canal in and around Central Avenue.

“The subject site associated with this particular request is currently vacant and previously occupied by the Hinkley’s Lighting Store store prior to its demolition in 2023,” said Josh Bednarek, Phoenix Planning and Development director, during a Sept. 6 public hearing at City Council Chambers, 200 E. Jefferson St. in downtown Phoenix.

“The proposal is for 155 units of multifamily residential with ground floor commercial on Central Avenue along Coolidge and a restaurant space with outdoor seating orientated toward the grand canal on the southeast corner of the subject site.”

Phoenix City Council Wednesday, Sept. 6 approved the rezoning of the 1.71-acre site found at the southwest corner of Central Avenue and Coolidge Street from C-2 TOD-1 — which means intermediate commercial, interim transit-oriented zoning overlay district one — to a Planned Unit Development District allowing mixed use multifamily residential.

During his brief outline this past Tuesday, Mr. Bednarek pointed out the PUD designation — a zoning incentive mechanism meant to promote transient oriented development — allows certain provisions at the subject site. Those items include:

  • A total of 155 residential units;
  • The completion of a 7-story building;
  • Shaded and detached sidewalks along Central Ave and Coolidge;
  • Vehicular access from Central Avenue; and
  • Ground floor commercial.

Leading up to the recent zoning approval, Mr. Bednarek explained to elected leaders along with the staff’s recommendation of approval, the lineage of municipal approvals leading to this most recent public hearing.

  • The Alhambra Vision Planning Committee recommended approval by a vote of 8 to 5 vote in June.
  • Last month, the Phoenix Planning Commission, citing the approval of the Ahambra VPC vote, unanimously recommended approval.

Mr. Bednarek explained to City Council provisions of the PUD overlay district allows for tenets of the transient orientated development to be realized.

“There are specific provisions in this PUD that require this project to interface in an active way with the canal,” he explained. “The use prohibits commercial uses; specifically [it] restricts the installation of a gym or the allowance for that commercial area for a leasing office.”

Mr. Bednarek also explained further planned reinvestment along the Grand Canalscape continues to configure the area as envisioned to be a walkable retail destination.

“There is a contribution from this developer for a quarter-of-a-million dollars to enhancing the canalscape,” he said. “That —- along with the project that is coming down to the west —- will really provide enhanced opportunity for folks to enjoy the canal to interface with this project and is another investment coming along the canal.”

What is the right way to activate the Phoenix Grand Canalscape?

Following an outline of the proposed project and zoning change request, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego opened the public hearing where a handful of residents spoke on tenets of the project, interpretations of what transient oriented development should look like and concerns over revenue margins.

“I would do that, but what are we going to get for it?” asked Phoenix resident Ken Waters, who was identified as an ‘appellant’ for the zoning case representing a contingent of local residents. “We want to put retail out there. Basically, there is no patio on the canalscape and this is ridiculous — it is the canalscape.”

Mr. Waters says the now-approved project is ‘development greed unchecked.’

Attorney Ben Tate, of Withey Morris Baugh, PLC, on behalf of the owner — Forty600, LP — and applicant ARS Developments, offers a different perspective of what the project represents.

“This is an area that I grew up in. This is the kind of project that I got into this business for and despite what Mr. Waters says it is exactly the kind of project the TOD envisioned for the central corridor,” Mr. Tate said during the public hearing. “The TOD plan is not a set of development standards, it is not set of rigid guidelines developments are supposed to follow religiously. It is intended to be a guidepost and as a policy plan to help guide the development.”

Those guidelines are being followed, Mr. Tate explained to City Council and those in attendance.

“A site is a zero-sum game,” he said pointing out there is an innovative approach being taken on with this project. “This is something no one has tried yet in Phoenix — that is a canal-oriented restaurant space. We think this can serve as proof of concept as canal oriented development is possible in Phoenix. This is what the community has asked for and it is what the TOD has asked for.”

Both Councilwomen Debra Stark and Laura Pastor spoke to the project and overall goals of the pursuit of activation along the Grand Canalscape in Phoenix.

“We want to make sure that when people are walking along there is a level of comfort and they feel they can walk down the street and enjoy the view,” she said of a vision of a stroll along an activated Phoenix Grand Canalscape.

Councilwoman Pastor says there is a missed opportunity along the Phoenix Grand Canalscape — one she hopes to help the community realize.

“Really for me, it is about the activation of the grand canal,” she said. ‘The grand canal throughout our whole city is a charming piece that we need to activate. I went to the Scottsdale Promenade and their canal and all of the activation … if Scottsdale can activate, we can activate in Phoenix.”

Councilwoman Pastor pointed out activation along the Grand Canalscape is a key priority of District 4.

“I pushed really hard on this piece because I would not budge,” she said. “You hear about the light rail station, you hear about the TOD and then you hear about my dad. A reason why a vision came about in this pace was because the area was deteriorating — I would say that my dad’s vision is happening.”

Ed Pastor, Councilwoman Pastor’s father, was a member of the United States House of Representatives representing Arizona from 1991 to 2015.

“Thank you for bringing up my dad and honoring him. I appreciate it,” she said of her father’s legacy of leadership. “One of the pieces that I was going to say, I did hear listening throughout the history, was he wanted people to have access, and for people to have a sense of community, connection and vibrancy and that is happening going to happen and happening as a result of the vision.”

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