Scottsdale City Council approved Axon’s futuristic new headquarters in northern Scottsdale despite requests from nearby residents for more time to address concerns.
The City Council voted 5-2 on Nov. 10 to rezone the property for industrial use and make way for Axon’s new headquarters on 73 acres of land the company purchased from the state land trust for $49 million.
When complete, the headquarters will include office space, research and development, programming, manufacturing and distribution.
The rezoning also included an increase to the maximum height on the property to 82 feet – well above the 52 feet typically allowed in areas zoned industrial.
The 82-foot allowance will only be used on a small portion of the site where offices will be located.
The rest, all of which is on the eastern half of the site abutting the Loop 101 freeway, will be below the 52-foot threshold, City Planner Greg Bloemberg said.
Attorney Charles Huellmantel, who represented Axon, said the increased height for the office space allowed Axon to avoid creating shorter, wide buildings that would have encroached on nearby neighborhoods.
Only Council members Guy Phillips and Kathy Littlefield opposed rezoning due to concerns voiced by residents in the Scottsdale Stonebrook community, located directly south of the development.
The residents appear to support the project overall but wanted more time to get answers from the company and the city about how the project would impact their neighborhood.
“We’re delighted from a neighborhood standpoint to have them as neighbors; couldn’t ask for a better neighbor,” said Bill Miller, a member of the Stonebrook HOA. “What we are concerned about though is the lack of notice.”
Huellmantel said the company did ample outreach and complied with all city requirements.
According to city staff, all neighbors within 750 feet were notified with postcards on Sept. 23 and received additional notifications prior to the Planning Commission and Council hearings.
The company also hosted a virtual open house.
But the residents said that was not enough time to work out issues with the company.
“We’ve been put on notice that these meetings were going to occur; we’ve been sent the postcards, we’ve seen the signs, but those signs were only put up in late September,” said Mary Kay Kennett, another Stonebrook resident.
“We are now only at Nov. 10 and those few short weeks have not really garnered us a lot of answers,” Kennett added.
Phillips and Littlefield supported a failed motion to delay the vote for a few weeks to allow for more discussion.
Councilman-elect Tom Durham, who will take office in 2021, also called for a delay.
Huellmantel said the company had made some modifications to address community concerns, including improved landscaping in areas near residential homes. That would include trees in the median and a pedestrian sidewalk requested by neighbors.
“We’ve substantially increased the landscaping beyond what you would normally see in this type of situation but we did it in an attempt to be a good neighbor,” Huellmantel said.
The residents who called into the meeting also had concerns about a large light feature on the building and how potential noise from the facility would affect them.
Huellmantel said noise would not be an issue because the facility will house the same operations that have already been at Axon’s existing headquarters nearby.
He said that facility has not received a single noise complaint in 15 years.
Huellmantel said the light feature will be pointed north away from homes and its casing feature will shield light from going into the neighborhood to the south.
But Kennett said she still did not approve of a lighted sign pointing onto the freeway.
“That will basically serve as a billboard for Axon for people driving down the 101,” Kennett said. “And, in light of living in Scottsdale for over 25 years, I just don’t feel it’s in keeping with...the integrity of our town.”
Scottsdale has restrictive signage rules that date back to the 1960s that have resulted in fewer commercial signs than in neighboring communities.
Scottsdale was down to a single billboard by 2004 after the city paid $45,000 to purchase one of three remaining signs that had been grandfathered prior to the passage of city ordinances that would have prohibited them.
Huellmantel said the Axon light feature is not a billboard and will not contain any advertorial content.
He said it is more akin to an art piece that appears to be generating power to compliment the building’s unique spaceship-like design.
The specifics of that design, including the lights and the use of Axon-branded yellow banding, drew some criticism as well.
“This building is unique to say the least,” Durham said. “It will have very unusual color schemes, lighting…that comes close to a billboard, which we have generally prohibited here, and all of this is going to be located at one of the most conspicuous locations in Scottsdale.”
Miller said he was concerned that “some of the decor of the building, in that it might not quite fit what we think is kind of befitting of Scottsdale.”
Council approval was mostly a foregone conclusion after it previously approved a development deal with the company earlier this year to pave the way for the new headquarters.
The deal, which came after the company nearly moved to the neighboring Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community, will see the city reimburse Axon up to $9.4 million for infrastructure improvements if it meets required benchmarks, including building at least 250,000 square feet of commercial or manufacturing space and having a payroll of $130 million over any continuous 12-month period within five years of the land purchase.
As part of the deal, Axon agreed to reserve 4.5-6 acres for the city. The city agreed to pay Axon the same acre price it paid for the larger parcel, which comes to about $663,514 per acre.
The site will likely become home to a new fire station and water pump station, according to city staff.