Scottsdale City Council approved plans to build a new park west of the DC Ranch neighborhood that will double as a water supply for a new sports complex in the area.
On Jan. 12, the Council unanimously approved the site plan for the first phase of the DC Ranch Neighborhood Park, which will be located at 91st Street and Trailside View and feature a lake, landscaping, a ramada and a walking trail that connects to 91st street and the future Bell Road Sports Complex at 94th Street and Bell Road.
The park’s lake and an on-site pump station will provide treated reclaimed wastewater to irrigate fields at the Bell Road Sports Complex, a project located south of the park that will feature up to six multiuse sports fields that can double as parking for major special events at Westworld and other area venues.
The sports complex and parts of the DC Ranch park will be funded with bond money approved by voters in 2019.
Council’s vote on the DC Ranch park had been scheduled for December but was delayed to allow city staff more time to address neighbors’ concerns.
The city received hundreds of comments on the project, including some from residents who contended an irrigation facility would violate a longtime deed restriction that restricts the site’s use to a park.
City Attorney Sherry Scott disagreed, stating, “we’re very satisfied that the terms of the deed restriction will be complied with as this project has been explained to you today.”
Vice Mayor Solange Whitehead praised the project for killing two birds with one stone.
“People sometimes complain that government is inefficient; I would argue that…every aspect of this project serves so many different needs,” she said.
Council approved a site plan for a park in 2003.
It was later considered as the future site for a public park that would double as sports fields for Great Hearts charter school but that plan was scrapped in 2017 in the face of resident opposition.
Chris Irish, director of public affairs for DC Ranch, said the new plans addressed most resident concerns.
Council included an additional stipulation requested by Irish requiring the city to install low-level lighting around the park’s lake.
“We’ve worked well together to ensure that the lake is a park amenity that the public will enjoy,” Irish said. “I think it’s equally important that we work together to make certain that it’s as safe as possible.”
Some residents were also concerned about park maintenance and mosquitoes in the lake.
Kroy Ekblaw, Scottsdale preserve director, said the city is responsible for all maintenance and that the lake was designed to maximize water movement, which will limit issues with mosquitoes and algae.
The project created a stir at the eleventh hour after resident Mike Norton voiced concerns about how the city would finance the project.
Norton pointed out that the $40-million sport fields project approved by voters in 2019 only authorized new fields at two sites and made no mention of one next to DC Ranch.
Bond funds can only be used to pay for projects explicitly presented to voters in official election materials.
Norton said the issue posed a challenge to Council "to maintain credibility and voter faith and confidence as you move through a more complicated question than whether or not the engineering is proper and the water flows well."
A project description published by the city said the project would “build up to 13 multi-use sports fields at two locations… up to six, lighted multiuse fields at 94th St. and Bell Rd. and up to seven, lighted multi-use fields at Thompson Peak Pkwy. and McDowellMountain Ranch Rd.”
It also stated, “Costs included purchasing land, designing and constructing necessary reclaimed water, sewer and drainage improvements and service lines to accommodate water delivery to the recreation fields.”
Norton said the new Council could lose the trust of residents if it authorized a project that commingled bond funds or used them inappropriately to pay for a park not mentioned in the bond pamphlet.
Norton, who served on the political action committee that supported passage of the bonds, said the deed restriction, coupled with the bond issue, put the city in a difficult situation.
“If we just treated the waste water holding pond as the single installation that was going to go in at 91st street, the bond funds could be used but we’d be violating the deed,” Norton said. “If we treat the pond as part of a lake, the pond development can be funded through the bond…but the remainder of the park development can’t be funded through general obligation bonds.”
City staff and some council members disagreed, stating the city would use bond funds only for the portions of the project that were authorized by voters, including the lake and irrigation infrastructure.
“We can create irrigation and put it in a place and build a beautiful park around it,” Councilwoman Linda Milhaven said.
City spokeswoman Erin Walsh said the project is still in the design phase and a final determination on funding has not been.
“Generally speaking, the types of items that are eligible for bond funding are the lake, pump station, an access drive to service the pumps and the required grading, native plant salvage and restoration of disturbed areas,” she said.
Walsh said the ramada, trails, parking stalls and the landscape buffer around the edges of the site would use an alternative funding source.
Scott said that split funding would satisfy the city’s legal obligation regarding how it spends bond funds.
Resident Brion Neely, chair of the city’s Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee, told the Progress he was initially concerned by the issues brought up by Norton, but added, “I’m mostly satisfied with the City Attorney’s response.”
“I think the city can do a better job of differentiating between the sports fields bond project and the DC Ranch park city project,” he added.
Construction should progress quickly this year in order to provide water for the nearby sports complex.
Ekblaw said the city plans to install turf at the complex this summer in order to be prepared for field reservations at the end of 2021.