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Scottsdale City Council moves to abolish downtown infill incentive district

A view of Scottsdale City Council earlier this year atop the local dais at City Hall. (Photos: Arianna Grainey/
Scottsdale City Council Sept. 5 vote in tune with tenets of General Plan 2035
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Scottsdale City Council Tuesday, Sept. 5, took the first formal step in removing the downtown infill incentive district — a legal mechanism one member of City Council called an ‘invitation’ to seek reduced development standards, more density and fewer fees.

An infill incentive district is a legal municipal mechanism created through local ordinance to encourage development oftentimes in a city’s urban core during times of economic recession. This one, the downtown infill incentive district, was focused on portions of downtown Scottsdale and established in 2010, city officials say.

The measure passed unanimously at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd., during the local governing board’s regular meeting this past Tuesday, but not before a bit of explanation and debate.

“Within the Arizona revised statute there is a provision that allows municipalities in Arizona to establish what are called ‘infill incentive districts,’” said Brad Carr, Scottsdale Planning Department area manager, during the Sept. 5 public hearing.

“To establish one of those districts you have to identify that you meet certain criteria as noted within the revised statutes. What they are intended to do is encourage redevelopment within that district that allows the council to establish a number of different things that may be amended like development standards in that district or special allowances like fee waivers or expedited plan reviews.”

Of Note: This downtown infill incentive district is an irregularly shaped area, found between North 68th Street and North Miller Road, and between east Earll Drive and East Chaparral Road, according to the Sept. 5 staff report.

Mr. Carr explained to City Council about 13 years ago elected leaders then were eager to encourage development in, at the time, what was a downtown sector in distress as Arizona and the nation were in the throes of what historians now call ‘the Great Recession.’

“The council did take that action back in 2010 to establish the downtown infill incentive plan as a redevelopment tool within our downtown area,” Mr. Casper explained. “What it did was establish the ability for applicants to request from the City Council amended development standards as part of their rezoning request.”

Mr. Carr explained Scottsdale contains two infill districts —- one specific to the waterfront development, the other focused on the urban core of the community, which is now destined to dissolve at the behest of City Council.

“So, between 2010 and now there have been a total of 13 applications approved by the City Council for the downtown infill incentive district,” Mr. Carr said, pointing out amendments to local zoning standards included changes to allowances for:

  • Floor area ratio
  • Building height
  • Density
  • Old Town boundary setback plane
  • Parking master plan reductions

Mr. Carr explains in the most recent voter-ratified General Plan update — General Plan 2035 — City Council removed all references of the downtown infill incentive district.

In Arizona, state law requires every 20 years municipalities create, maintain and present to voters a General Plan document that serves as a guiding document for things like development standards amid myriad other community development guidelines and provisions.

“A lot of those allowances are still present in the planned block overlay development standards,” Mr. Carr said of the administrative change to the local zoning code explaining that now special requests could emerge through a formal development agreement. “As a result most of the infill incentives reverenced become redundant.”

Scottsdale City Council debates virtues of downtown incentives

Scottsdale Councilwoman Betty Janik says the end to the downtown infill incentive district is a testament to the legal mechanism serving its purpose.

“I think the best news is we don’t need it anymore as it is not 2010 —- we have a thriving downtown,” she said. “We have builders knocking on our door that want to build in our downtown and they want to build beautiful projects, so I am very happy that this has finally come forward and after removing it from General Plan 2035.”

Scottsdale Councilman Barry Graham lauded the work of his peers on this item pointing out during his time on the Planning Commission the downtown incentives were met with common chagrin.

“I want to give credit to my colleagues for pushing this, and the mayor has seen this through,” he said.

Scottsdale Councilwoman Tammy Caputi, who voted to end the incentives, asked why the time is right especially with the winds of recession continuing to swirl.

“I think that goal hasn’t really changed,” she said. “I think our goal and purpose on this is still there. This district was created during a time in which there was a great amount of economic uncertainty — projects were stalled, the downtown was full of dirt lots. And one might argue we are coming back into that situation.”

“In order for this city to have the highest possible level of amenities, the most open space and keep our property taxes low, we have to continue to encourage economic vitality and good quality development,” she said. “In our zeal to control development, we don’t turn away good investment in our city, which we are desperately looking for.”

Scottsdale Councilwoman Solange Whitehead has a different perspective.

“We are removing an invitation, an encouragement to amend our development standards, an encouragement to ask for lower fees,” she said of the core what the development incentives meant to her. “Yes, every developer can still come in and ask for the Eiffel Tower but we are not encouraging it.”

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