Scottsdale councilwoman weighs in on political ‘boogeyman’
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press
Every municipality has one, but the one a part of the city of Scottsdale, some say, will have a dramatic effect on economic development prospects, the quality of life of residents and access to affordable housing not only in Scottsdale but the entire Phoenix metropolitan region.
The multifamily housing construction pipeline in Scottsdale has become a political talking point with certain numbers challenged, but everyone agrees affordable housing is nonexistent in Scottsdale and the number of multifamily units anticipated to sprout within municipal bounds matter.
“I moved to Scottsdale from New Jersey,” said Bob Pejman, a Scottsdale resident and owner of a private art gallery in Old Town Scottsdale. “People moved here for what Scottsdale is. I do not want it to change. I want you to know I am not anti-growth; they are pushing it too far. Listen, tourism is the ‘Golden Goose’ and if we become like Tempe, we will lose what we have. People back east do not say, ‘let’s go to Mesa or let’s go to Tempe, they say let’s go to Scottsdale.’”
Mr. Pejman says at the core of his concern around too many housing units built is he believes it will take away from the tourism destination cache the community enjoys today.
“Scottsdale is attuned in a way to attract visitors and tourists,” he said of the billion-dollar tourism industry. “The more we take away from looking like Scottsdale and looking like Tempe we can expect to see tourism go down. The tourists will go to other locations because we are not the only game in town. I worry it — urbanization — will change the character of Scottsdale.”
Mr. Pejman believes there are 10,000 multifamily homes in the construction pipeline at the Scottsdale Planning Department.
“It is not as if we are starting from position zero,” he pointed out. “There have been 6,000 apartments built in Scottsdale since 2015 and they are not affordable. The other side’s argument on this is there is a shortage of housing. But it is not just housing it is affordable housing and the new units, they are anything but affordable and certainly not workforce housing.”
As of Friday, June 17, according to a document titled “Development Pipeline Project Status” there are 11,242 multifamily housing units anticipated to be built within Scottsdale city limits, the document shows. The document was provided to the Arizona Digital Free Press from resident Susan Wood.
Scottsdale fear mongering & multifamily housing
Scottsdale Councilwoman Linda Milhaven offers a distinct perspective on the Scottsdale housing situation.
“Fear mongering fueled by misinformation and hyperbole has taken center stage in our community dialogue and campaigns for City Council,” she told the Scottsdale Daily Beat. “Multifamily housing projects have become the boogeyman with expressions like ‘out of control, over-development,’ ‘too many high rises’ or a cry to avoid the ‘urbanization’ of our city.”
Ms. Milhaven says growth is the No. 1 economic factor fueling Arizona’s economy.
“We should be afraid of stalling our growth, or worse yet going backwards and losing tax revenues that sustain our quality of life. Our population growth has already slowed, and we are growing more slowly than the region,” she said.
“Our share of state-tax revenues is determined by our share of the state’s population. As the rest of the state grows more quickly, we receive a smaller share of state tax revenues. If we grow more slowly, we will be going backwards and our local economy will stagnate, tax revenues will decline further, and ultimately city services may be eliminated or reduced.”
Ms. Milhaven suggests the now-approved General Plan speaks to anticipated growth as build-out is approaching in Scottsdale.
“Population growth is constrained by the number of housing units available. If we halt creating new housing our economy fails to grow, we stagnate and our economic strength is compromised,” she said.
Scottsdale resident Susan Wood says her concerns revolve around the amount of multifamily units and how city leaders are evaluating those numbers. The list of to-be-built projects she has compiled — including all zoning entitlements with public records dating as far back as 2015 — puts that number between 10,500 units to 11,800 units a part of the municipal construction timeline.
“The definition of a pipeline is very wide. The word pipeline is an idiom, which means in progress or not yet completed,” she said of the difference between what is built and a zoning entitlement of a property. “If you have a zoning issue, a plot of land, you go before the City Council … even back in 2019, the rezoning was 1,500 units, that zoning goes with the property.”
Ms. Wood also explains the data figures published at her website protectscottsdale.com also includes figures at pending hotel construction at the Scottsdale Fashion Square, One Scottsdale and 779 senior-living dwelling units. She reports the numbers could be as high as just over 14,000 pending units over the coming years.
“The person who owns that plot of land has every right to build what the zoning entitlement is,” she said.
When it comes to the billion-dollar Scottsdale tourism brand, Councilwoman Milhaven says Old Town Scottsdale will remain Old Town Scottsdale — not because she says so, but because the area is protected through ordinance.
“Some claim that development threatens our tourism industry. This is more fear mongering. Our historic downtown is protected and is not threatened by development but other parts of our downtown are in dire need of investment,” she explained.
“Our tourism community did a study a few years back called Downtown 2.0. The study looked at our downtown and made recommendations to make downtown more attractive to visitors. Adding more housing units was one of its recommendations. Given the limited land downtown, adding height is the only way to add enough units to achieve the goal of creating vibrancy and adding more customers to support local business.”
The Waterfront Towers is a strong example of a multifamily housing product that can add to the cache of Scottsdale’s tourism brand for years to come.
“New development will mirror this success,” she said.
“It isn’t clear exactly how folks think our brand is threatened. Looking at our visitors’ bureau website, they define our brand and promote Scottsdale by highlighting outdoor adventures, dining, night life, events, arts and culture, golf, shopping and downtown. Adding residential uses to existing commercial parcels does not threaten any of these but will make our downtown more attractive to visitors.”
What is missing in Scottsdale housing stock?
Reasonable access to affordable housing remains a paramount priority for those elected to serve the community — Scottsdale is no exception, Councilwoman Milhaven contends.
“A lack of housing and skyrocketing costs contributes to this challenge,” she put simply.
“Some think we have overbuilt multifamily housing, but the census tells us rentals comprise a smaller share of our total housing units than most other cities in the region. Vacancies are virtually nonexistent. We do not have an adequate housing supply.”
Furthermore, limited resources will change the dynamic of practical housing built for years to come, Councilwoman Milhaven says.
— Councilwoman Linda Milhaven
“We should keep in mind that multifamily housing makes more efficient use of precious resources, like water,” she said. “Seventy percent of the water used at a single family home is used outside, watering landscaping and filling pools. Ninety percent of the water used indoors is reclaimed and recycled. In short, multifamily housing units use less water and recycle more of what they do use.”
For Ms. Milhaven, the argument is about the basic laws of macroeconomics.
“Adding new supply will impact housing costs,” she said of basic economic principles. “As we add new units, yesterday’s new units age and the added supply will put downward pressure on rents in older units. I imagine there will always be a premium to be paid to live in Scottsdale, but this added supply will make the cost of housing more reasonable.”
The No. 1 rule of real estate? Location.
“It is also important to be mindful about where these projects are located. New multifamily rezoning requests are asking to allow residential uses on existing commercial parcels where only office and/or retail uses are allowed,” Councilwoman Milhaven explained. “Many include a mix of retail and residential uses. Most are replacing vacant lots, vacant buildings, or tired, old buildings. The new residents support surrounding businesses by providing customers and workers. All key to a robust economy.”
From a sustainability perspective, Councilwoman Milhaven contends, the current lack of housing and affordable rents is a very serious threat to the quality of life in Scottsdale for future generations.
“Our lack of housing threatens our economic sustainability, will erode our tax revenues and may ultimately compromise the quality of the services and amenities that our residents enjoy,” she said. “Multifamily housing is one solution to sustaining our quality of life.”