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Paradise Valley Town Council sends Mockingbird Lane project to planning commission

Photo of Jerry Bien-Willner who is mayor of the Town of Paradise Valley
Paradise Valley Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner presides over the regular business meeting at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, Thursday, Dec. 8. (Photo: Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress.com)

Tension emerges atop Paradise Valley dais as
‘targeting’ accusations made by Town Council member

By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

“To sidewalk or not to sidewalk?” that was the question before Paradise Valley Town Council during a Dec. 8 public hearing at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.

The contemplated improvements along Mockingbird Lane, including the proposed installation of a sidewalk on the east side of the minor arterial roadway, is drawing concern from Paradise Valley residents who live along and adjacent to the proposed project.

Of concern is who may or may not use the sidewalk, what kind of message a sidewalk might send to the outside world — and if it improves pedestrian safety.

Residents who attended the public hearing at Town Hall went on the record with elected leaders expressing support of improvements but raising questions about why a sidewalk is needed and why now?

The capital improvement project was first introduced in fiscal year 2018 and entails several construction measures, according to Jason Harris at Paradise Valley public works. Total cost of the CIP project is $7.1 million, of which the Town of Paradise Valley is responsible for $3.8 million through shared cost at Maricopa County, Digital Free Press archives show.

Paradise Valley Community Development Director Lisa Collins offered to Town Council at the Dec. 8 public hearing a brief presentation on the CIP project including roadway and sewage improvements and traffic calming measures proposed along Mockingbird Lane.

However, one option — to the chagrin of some — is a sidewalk proposal to run along the eastern portion of Mockingbird Lane. However, Paradise Valley Town Council was provided with options including sending the matter to the Planning Commission, a seven-member advisory board to Town Council on all matters zoning.

Paradise Valley Vice Mayor Anna Thomasson, following a brief overview of the proposed CIP project, pointed out to those in attendance the topic has generated community interest and elected leaders are listening.

“We have received a lot of feedback and written comments that were sent to all members of council,” she said. “I have followed this project closely. We owe it to you, those in the neighborhood, to study it thoroughly.”

The project is not scheduled to begin until calendar year 2024, Vice Mayor Thomasson confirmed with town staff prior to deliberations.

Paradise Valley Vice Mayor Anna Thomasson says she has been following the Mockingbird Lane project and says nearby residents deserve the local governing body to thoroughly vet the project. (Photo: Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress.com)

The impacts of a sidewalk along Mockingbird Lane

Paradise Valley Councilwoman Julie Pace is concerned about this project.

“I have also stepped up and have been following this quite closely,” she said pointing out she recently walked the portion of Mockingbird Lane under CIP scrutiny.

“I walked with the neighbors after that October meeting, they were very concerned following that meeting. Those folks have spent a lot of time and money on their homes and to make that area look good. Everyone talked about security; it was interesting to see how much it would impact their community.”

Councilwoman Pace says she saw distressing things along her walk last October.

“It was a nice street, I think the rural elegance is there,” she said. “One of the things I saw though was as I walked the street on the east side were people loitering or people who don’t belong. We saw clean razor blades, lighters and then further up more lighters. These were not used, old rusty razor blades; they were clean … used for doing drugs.”

Paradise Valley Councilwoman Ellen Andeen voiced her support for a second option following Ms. Pace’s opening remarks.

“I support concept No. 2,” she said, pointing out she believes the vast majority of those living along Mockingbird Lane do not want a sidewalk on the east side of the roadway. “I think if 90% of residents say they don’t want a sidewalk, then I will support that.”

Paradise Valley Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner provided to those in attendance with an overview of his perception of next steps.

“I am not trying to make a case for a sidewalk or against a sidewalk,” he prefaced his comments. “They are times in this job when we have to balance people’s desires. I want to assure residents that your feedback is noted. Those are comments on both sides of the issue.”

The General Plan, sidewalks and intimidation?

Mayor Bien-Willner outlined the project, a contemplated part of the 2018 CIP proposal, is in tune with the community’s General Plan, which serves as a guiding document for all zoning and development within the municipality. Every decade, through “Growing Smarter Legislation” local cities and town are required to update and take to the voters modern versions of the plan as new development unfolds and population grows.

“I think listening to our residents is critically important,” said Paradise Valley Councilman Paul Dembow during the public hearing. “I look to the General Plan to guide me. If you read our General Plan that passed by some 80% of voters a part of it talks about ‘Safe Routes to School’ an idea that carries federal funding for projects like connecting sidewalks. I would suggest a sidewalk is the safest not just for students but also for our residents.”

Councilwoman Pace went on the record saying, “We should not be putting fear into people here in Paradise Valley” in reference to those who felt the Town of Paradise Valley was pushing the project further.

“You have to fight for things to keep quality of life — it just doesn’t happen,” she said following hearing from members of the public who spoke against the sidewalk proposal.

“Sometimes you have to speak up. You can’t be afraid to speak up and participate. And I was so disappointed, it crushed me to hear from residents of this community over the last four months who were discouraged by some of my colleagues to step up and give their voice because they might be targeted.”

Mayor Bien-Willner interrupted Councilwoman Pace asking for a call to order and proper decorum. Furthermore, he called into question the accusation of members of Town Council targeting any members of the community.

“I didn’t say, ‘target,’” Ms. Pace replied, to which Mr. Bien-Willner disagreed. “OK, I did say ‘target,’ well, fair enough. Yeah, they target. I just want people to know: don’t be afraid to give the feedback.”

Following the hour’s long discussion and debate members of Town Council unanimously agreed to send the matter to the Paradise Valley Planning Commission for further review.

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