In campaign advertisements and media interviews, Scottsdale mayoral candidate Lisa Borowsky has vowed to support public participation in the development process and uphold the city’s stringent design guidelines.
“It’s really the cornerstone of my campaign and what prompted me to get in the race,” Borowsky said.
That statement comes against the backdrop of a fraught few years in which Scottsdale residents have mobilized twice to kill controversial development projects – the Desert Discovery Center in 2018 and Southbridge Two in 2020 – and vocally opposed others that ultimately received City Council approval.
Borowsky, who is running against Dave Ortega in the city’s general election on Nov. 3, told the Progress that she is the right candidate to broker compromise between developers and residents that allows for thoughtful growth with citizens’ concerns in mind.
“So, I think there’s got to be that middle ground – that give and take – and it’s got to be thoughtful…” Borowsky said. “The test should be: does it enhance Scottsdale? Does it enhance our community? Does it enhance our area?”
But residents of the Verde Valley over 100 miles from Scottsdale have called out Borowsky for allegedly failing to practice what she preaches.
The residents, who hail from Cornville and surrounding areas, are opposed to Spring Creek Ranch, a proposed mixed-use development that would bring 1,900 homes, apartments RV pads and assisted living units to 280 acres of land off State Route 89A, just about 13 miles south of Sedona.
The property is owned by Eric Borowsky, the candidate’s father.
Lisa Borowsky has featured prominently in Spring Creek Ranch’s roll out and has represented the proposed development before the Yavapai County Planning and Zoning Commission and the Cottonwood City Council.
Lisa Borowsky told the Progress she is not a developer or a zoning attorney and that she is only representing the development because her father asked her to be involved.
Eric Borowsky previously owned the Arizona Snowbowl – which itself was embroiled in a controversy that started over a decade ago when Navajos and other Native American tribes opposed the use of reclaimed water to create snow.
Six Cornville area residents told the Progress Lisa Borowsky’s approach to the Spring Creek development does not square with her campaign message, charging that her family is uninterested in local concerns.
“The part that really chaps all of our hides is that her platform for Scottsdale is the very thing that she’s blatantly destroying here,” said Natasha Shealy, who lives about two miles from the proposed development. “It’s almost like she’s just thumbing her nose at us.”
Added resident Daniel Holland: “I saw the commercials for her running for mayor down there, and she seems to think the people of Scottsdale should control the development of Scottsdale and no unnecessary building…and then she comes up here, and she does the opposite.”
Residents opposed to Spring Creek Ranch have shown up in force at multiple public meetings on the development, most recently last month before Cottonwood City Council in which it considered a request by the Borowskys to annex their land.
The Council received 129 emails and 16 phone calls in opposition. One email favored the annexation but opposed Spring Creek Ranch.
That type of turnout is not uncommon.
According to the Verde Independent newspaper, prior to a canceled meeting of the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors in January, opponents submitted 245 letters of opposition to the project compared to 15 in favor.
The Independent also reported that prior to a December 2019 meeting of the Yavapai County Planning and Zoning Commission, nearly all social media traffic it monitors and letters to the editor were opposed to Spring Creek Ranch.
The complaints mirror those made by Scottsdale residents in recent years regarding new developments in downtown Scottsdale and north of Loop 101, where residents have fought efforts by home builders to increase density and reduce required lot sizes.
Nearby residents said Spring Creek would negatively impact existing homeowners who prefer a less dense, rural lifestyle.
“Cornville is a rural community,” Mary Lou Christianson said. “And what they’re proposing doesn’t belong in a rural, agricultural community; it’s just not appropriate.”
Lisa Borowsky disagreed.
“It’s very much so in keeping with the character of the area,” Borowsky said. “In fact, it’ll just be such a nice community for the area…they do not currently have something similar – a masterplan community.”
Borowsky said Spring Creek Ranch will have superior amenities.
Residents said the increased density and accompanying traffic would negatively impact an area that currently has limited ingress and egress.
They said the developer – and Lisa Borowsky specifically – have largely ignored their feedback.
“There’s nothing that fits our rural way of life at all about anything that she’s got going on here,” Lynne Ordean said. “And after the meetings, she has no interest in talking to any members of the community at all; she shuts down like you cannot believe.”
Borowsky said her family has conducted ample outreach.
“I think we were required to do one meeting and to meet with a handful of organized groups – we’ve done about tenfold of what we would have ever been required to do,” Borowsky said.
Local reporting in the Verde Independent confirms Borowsky’s claims and shows the family has hosted open houses.
But that reporting also highlighted the contentious nature of those meetings.
At one meeting in February, Borowsky had “tense exchanges with other residents leading up to that moment, mainly over both the size and density of the plan or the potential impact to the Spring Creek watershed,” according to the Verde Independent.
In one case, Borowsky ordered a resident to leave after he raised his voice.
Despite those tense exchanges, Lisa Borowsky said her father did respond to community concerns by reducing the number of units planned for the land.
According to the Verde Independent, the Borowskys reduced the plan by about 1,000 units after the Yavapai County Planning and Zoning Commission denied the original proposal in a 5-4 vote to recommend disapproval of the project in December 2019.
The residents also said they were concerned about how the project would affect its namesake Spring Creek – part of a riparian area that is the native home to spikedace and Gila topminnow, two endangered species of fish.
In October 2019 – prior to the reduction in size of the project – the Arizona Game and Fish Department submitted a letter to Yavapai County that development and increased visitation to the site could cause habitat degradation and negatively impact local wildlife.
Borowsky said the development has worked with a number of local groups to address these concerns, including Arizona Game and Fish, the Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Verde River.
“The Department has conducted very limited wildlife surveys on the property in the past, with permission from the landowner,” according to a statement from Arizona Game and Fish. “We value the resource, respect private property ownership, and are available to provide conservation recommendations or assistance if requested by the landowner.”
Representatives for the Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Verde River both confirmed they had met with the Borowskys but neither took formal positions on the project.
“We have met with Lisa and her father a couple of times to talk about how we thought the project could be improved to reduce its impact on Spring Creek and the Verde River,” said Nancy Steele, executive director of Friends of the Verde River. “We don’t have any agreement with them nor have we endorsed the project in any way.”
“The Conservancy does not have a specific stance on the proposed Spring Creek Development located near Sedona as we do not take positions related specific land development projects,” said Kimberly Schonek, Verde River Project director for the Nature Conservancy in Arizona.
Some suggestions provided by the Conservancy included developing water recharge projects and efficient water use habits, like low-water use landscaping and efficient household appliances.
The Conservancy also noted that increasing the density of the project could ultimately benefit the area by encouraging the development of needed infrastructure.
“Cluster development with higher density that allows cost effective installation of water and other infrastructure needs. This allows for capture of effluent for treatment rather than use of septic tanks and allows for recharge and re-use of water while reducing water quality impacts…” Schonek said.
At the Cottonwood City Council meeting in August, Community Developer Director Scott Ellis said the proposed annexation could allow the city to build a centralized water system at Spring Creek Ranch after development.
When asked by the Progress about criticism from residents who said their voices are being ignored, Borowksy said “I don’t think anyone has said that.”
But just days before that interview, Borowsky sat in the front row at a Cottonwood City Council meeting on Aug. 18 where a dozen residents showed up to criticize the development.
“This is the wrong project in the wrong place,” Susanna Sophia Hart said at the meeting. “Our community has been going to meeting after meeting trying to express our voices to the Borowskys – they do not care. They do not want to listen to anyone in the community.”
Borowsky said the only residents who may have been ignored are those that want her father to simply give the property away for nothing to create a public park.
“That voice I would agree was not heard because that’s just simply an impossible thing to do,” Borowsky said.
Christianson did suggest Eric Borowsky donate the land but other opponents said they simply want the Borowskys to abide by the existing zoning.
Currently, the land is zoned for rural homes by a Yavapai County designation that would only allow about 140 homes on the property – about 1,700 less units than Eric Borowsky is proposing.
The Borowskys recently asked the Cottonwood City Council to annex the land away from the county and indicated it would then request a zoning amendment to allow for higher densities.
Borowsky declined to discuss the particulars of the rezoning plans and said it was not pertinent to the Scottsdale election.
“I don’t want to get into the weeds on this, because it’s not relevant to Scottsdale and you can quote me on that,” Borowsky said. “It’s not relevant to my position on development in Scottsdale.
“I feel the exact same way – I feel like developers have to work hard to achieve the best proposal and the goals of the community,” she added. “And we’re doing that there and that’s what I expect to do in Scottsdale.”
But the area residents who spoke to the Progress said the rezoning is at the heart of their opposition, saying it would pave the way for a sea of rooftops.
“I’m not against developments, you know, but keep the zoning,” Holland said. “If you’re going buy something on speculation that you can change the zoning and you don’t get a change, well that’s on you.”
That argument mirrors comments made by Scottsdale residents, particularly those in northern parts of the city who have opposed increased densities north of Loop 101, where much of the land was historically limited to one home per acre.
The northern area of the city is considered a stronghold for Borowsky, who led Ortega in every voting precinct north of Loop 101 in the August Primary Election, according to County Recorder’ data.
But Ortega argued those very residents would oppose Borowsky’s project if it landed in their backyard.
“So there’s no way something that extreme would ever be considered in Scottsdale,” Ortega said.
The Verde Valley residents opposed to Spring Creek Ranch said they, too, are just trying to preserve the low density and open space that drew them to the Verde Valley in the first place.
“Just like your community, (we’re) saying ‘hey, we don’t want this,” Hart said. “We want to stay with the character of our place – seems fair enough (but) developers come in, they’re all about making money and we have to be the ones to say no, to stand up for what we believe in.”