Council names Higgs to planning commission Papago Plaza plan

The Scottsdale City Council on May 21 named Renee Higgs to fill a vacancy on the city’s Planning Commision, which has been atacked by some critics of the Papago Plaza plan, pictured above.

The Scottsdale City Council has named Renee Higgs to the city’s Planning Commission to fill the vacancy left when former Commissioner Kelsey Pasquel resigned in March.

The appointment comes amid scrutiny of the Planning Commission’s composition, with some residents voicing concerns that its membership — many of whom are developers themselves or work closely with the development community — are too cozy with the businesses they are charged with overseeing.

Resident Andrea Alley, a prominent voice in the discussion over the redevelopment of Papago Plaza, cited a high number of recusals and called the commission a “good old boys club.”

“If there’s that many conflicts of interest, are they really representing the citizens or are they representing the developer and the architect and whoever else (they work with)?”  Alley said.

With Higgs’ appointment, the Council struck a balance, naming a commissioner who does not receive a paycheck from developers but who, at the same time, is close with the Scottsdale business community.

Higgs, southwest regional marketing manager for Mayo Clinic, is on the Board for Scottsdale Leadership and the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Advisory Council.

She is also the business liaison between Mayo Clinic and Experience Scottsdale, the city’s contracted tourism arm.

Pasquel resigned amid a cloud of controversy.

According to Pasquel’s letter of resignation, she resigned because of a recent move to Phoenix.

The resignation took place just weeks after she made controversial comments at a commission meeting on potential changes to the public comment process in which she characterized resident concerns over the Papago Plaza redevelopment as “fake opposition” stirred up by those hoping to run for City Council in 2020.

Pasquel’s comments, first reported by the Progress, were decried by some residents who saw a conflict of interest because Pasquel’s husband worked on the Papago Plaza redevelopment.

The comments resulted in at least two ethics complaints from Jason Alexander and AJ Germek, one of the residents who sought to replace her.

“She was absolutely resigning to avoid an ethics complaint; That’s my take on that,” said Alexander, who plans to run for Council in 2020 and was likely the subject of Pasquel’s comments. “Either way, we get a better result and an opportunity to upgrade that seat.”

Whether or not Alexander and others like him consider Higgs an upgrade is unclear.

Higgs addressed the elephant in the room and said she wants to fairly represent all sides affected by new development — including residents, businesses and developers — while adhering to the city’s rules and regulations.

“Responsible and thoughtful zoning and development remains the hot topic for the Planning Commission and while the opinions of all key parties should be considered, we need to protect the future of our local economy while adhering to the standards and policies of the city,” Higgs said.

“As an active member of the Scottsdale community, I am passionate about what the future holds,” she added. “While growth may be inevitable, I believe in smart balanced growth.”

Four council members voted in favor of Higgs — Mayor Jim Lane, Suzanne Klapp, Linda Milhaven and Guy Phillips.

The three remaining votes went to candidates with even fewer ties to the development or business communities.

Resident Joe Cusack, a Scottsdale native who previously worked for IBM, received two votes from Kathy Littlefield and Solange Whitehead.

Cusack said he had no prior experience working in government and was looking for a way to help his community. His mother, Diane Cusack, served on the city’s original Planning Commission and later was elected to council.

Councilwoman Virginia Korte voted for Dana Close, a southern Scottsdale resident and vice president of the Hacienda del Rey homeowners association.

Close has spoken out on behalf of resident concerns in the past and said she is in favor of responsible development.

Close and other neighbors in southern Scottsdale have recently spoken out against the Cabana on Hayden apartment complex planned for an old church site at Oak and Hayden with concerns that it does not mesh aesthetically with the neighborhood and could put too much strain on area infrastructure, roads and services.