The city is asking for resident feedback on proposed new rules to pave the way for signs as high as 60 feet along the Loop 101 freeway in northern Scottsdale.
The proposed amendment to the city’s rules regulating signage would, if passed, allow large mixed-use developments along the freeway between Scottsdale and Hayden Roads to construct signage within 600 feet of Loop 101.
According to the city, the request for new signs came from the business community.
“The increase in freeway-adjacent development garnered interest by the business community to request the city to update the sign requirements of the Zoning Ordinance to allow taller and larger freestanding signs along the freeway so the signs can be easily seen by drivers traveling along the freeway,” according to city documents.
City planner Andrew Chi said discussions about the freeway signs have been going on for about a year.
“We have been asked by the business community to update our sign ordinance to introduce freeway-appropriate (signs),” Chi said.
Chi said the current code was developed before freeways had a presence in Scottsdale, so it does not have any allowances for larger signs along freeway frontages.
Chi confirmed the initial request for the update came from Nationwide, which is currently building the 134-acre Cavasson mixed-use development north of Loop 101 at Hayden.
Chi said Nationwide initially considered pursuing a private text amendment for its own project, but the city is now spearheading the proposal at the developer’s request.
This will give the city more control over the stipulations, Chi said.
“We have more control of writing the regulations rather than having a developer write the regulations themselves, which we would have less of a control over in terms of modifying (or) doing any changes,” Chi said.
Nationwide did not respond to a request for comment.
The parameters of the proposal suggest the city had Nationwide in mind while writing the rules as the rules only allow for signs off Loop 101 between Scottsdale and Hayden Roads.
The proposed rule change would allow for three types of signs along the freeway in this area. The signs would be subject to the approval of the city’s Development Review Board.
The first type, called a freeway pylon sign, would stand approximately 55 to 60 feet tall and extend 35 to 45 feet above the freeway. The width of the pylon signs could not exceed 50 percent of the total height.
The new rules would include a separation requirement - all pylon signs be spaced at least 500 feet apart.
The proposal would also allow signage affixed to buildings in a development if they are within 600 feet of the freeway right of way.
The building signs could not exceed 300 square feet in size and no part of the sign could extend above the top of the building. The signs could not be placed higher than 24 feet off the ground if the building façade faces a residential district.
The proposed new rules would also allow for 20-to 25-foot gateway signs placed at development entrances along frontage roads, Chi said.
The new rules would require all signs to be 500 feet from residential areas. The signs are also prohibited in areas designated as scenic corridors by the city.
Though the proposal was only introduced in January, it has already garnered significant pushback from the community.
“We have received some comments from the public already,” Chi said. “They are generally concerned, and it’s not a surprise. The majority are concerned about the introduction of larger pylon signs in the city.”
Chi said the city will host two open houses to gather resident feedback and the final decision maker will be city council, which has to vote to approve any code amendments.
This opposition is not surprising as Scottsdale has a long history as a sign-averse community.
Scottsdale’s restrictive signage rules date back to the 1960s and have been updated several times over the intervening years. Those rules have resulted in fewer commercial signs like billboards in Scottsdale than in its neighboring communities.
Scottsdale was down to a single billboard by 2004, after the city paid $45,000 to purchase one of three remaining signs grandfathered in prior to the passage of city ordinances previously prohibiting them, according to an East Valley Tribune story from the time.
The last remaining billboard in Scottsdale from the time is still up on the south side of McDowell Road at 76th Street.
Sonnie Kirtley, executive director of the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale, is concerned it reflects the comments Chi referenced.
“Bottom line for me personally is no pylons,” Kirtley said. “Put the sign on the building and below the roofline.”
Kirtley said COGS has not taken an official position on the matter as the board has not yet discussed the proposal.
Resident Jason Alexander, who moderates the Scottsdale Together Facebook page and lives in northern Scottsdale, also expressed concerns about the sign proposal.
Citing conversations he’s had with residents, Alexander said “So I think it’s pretty safe to say citizens across the board from a simple aesthetic point of view are not going to be behind the idea.”
Still, Alexander said he would keep an open mind if the city and Nationwide can prove the signs would be a net positive for Scottsdale residents.
Alexander previously made a similar argument last year while opposing a new rule proposed by Scottsdale Quarter to allow large shopping centers to install digital signs.
“If the ROI to the businesses is great enough it pays for itself through retail sales taxes or there’s some significant quantifiable amount in retail sales taxes, I think we need to at least give it a fair listen and ask ‘is the benefit to the city in direct financial infusion worth the negative stuff?’” Alexander said.
The Scottsdale Quarter application is still active and has not been scheduled to go before city council.
Alexander said he would like to see Nationwide provide documentation supporting the idea the city would benefit financially by allowing freeway signs.
Alexander also supported Kirtley’s position to do away with the pylon signs and restrict the taller signage to a building’s façade.
He said “a good compromise would be let them do it on their own building and kind of make them put some skin in the game,” arguing it would incentivize to make the signs as aesthetically-pleasing as possible.
Whether or not the city adopts the new rules will ultimately be up to the city council.