Developer seeks big density limit increase downtown

A rendering shows the proposed eight-story residential building that would sit along Bishop Lane in downtown Scottsdale.

A developer is seeking to more than double density limits on a parcel of land at the southern edge of downtown Scottsdale to accommodate a proposed eight-story residential building.

The current zoning on the site, a collection of parcels along Bishop Lane south of 2nd Street, allows for heights up to 36 feet and density of 23 dwelling units per acre.

Phoenix-based Helix, a commercial real estate company, owns the land, according to Maricopa County Assessor records.

The project narrative, submitted to the city in June, lists national luxury apartment developer The Morgan Group Inc. as the developer.

The developer is proposing a zoning change that is in compliance with Scottsdale’s new Old Town Character Area Plan that would increase those limits to 90 feet, which includes six feet for rooftop appurtenances, and 50 dwelling units per acre.

The proposed project is then seeking additional density bonuses that would allow for 129.22 units per acre to accommodate the proposed 199-unit building, called Bishop Lane in documents filed with the city.

The building is less than a half mile away from more residential buildings proposed in the area as part of the Museum Square development.

The proposed Bishop Lane project would include enough parking to exceed the city’s parking requirements in an underground parking structure. 

The developer would have to pay approximately $1.5 million via special improvements or through in-lieu payments to the city to receive the requested bonuses for density, according to City Planner Bryan Cluff.

The bonuses, if approved, would create unparalleled density in this part of Scottsdale.

“Nobody on staff is asking them to do this or encouraging them to do this,” Assistant City Manager Brent Stockwell wrote in an email to a concerned business owner in the area. “This would be the most intensive use to date in Scottsdale and staff has said this to the developer.”

The Scottsdale City Council would have to sign off on those changes for the project to move forward at the proposed height and density. 

In its submission to the city, the developer contended that Bishop Lane, the street, is currently overlooked in favor of busier thoroughfares like Scottsdale Road and that much of the street is made up of surface parking and empty buildings. 

The proposed site for Bishop Lane includes the vacant Boss Pizza Bar building at the southwest corner of Bishop and 2nd Street.

Still, the submission says that the potential for a “great, urban neighborhood” exists due to the presence of “two amazing galleries” — the Larsen Gallery and Riva Yares Gallery — and an American Legion post.

The submission states that the new residential project would “foster connectivity and community at this urban location.”

However, one of those gallery owners cited in the developer’s submission disagrees.

Scott Larsen, owner of the Larsen Gallery, said he is concerned about the influx of density and traffic the proposed project would bring to 0.1-mile Bishop Lane, which he said is “not even a through street; it’s a tiny, little street.”

He is worried that his customers will have a difficult time getting to the street due to an increased congestion.

Larsen said the street is not large enough to accommodate more than a handful of cars existing the project’s garage at any given time.

“And I think the whole streets just going to be gridlock,” Larsen said.

Larsen said he is not opposed to development in the area — like the nearby Museum Square project that includes four residential buildings between 75 and 149 feet tall.

“I think development is inevitable down here. It just needs to be a well designed and thought out,” Larsen said.

The difference, in Larsen’s mind, between the proposed Bishop Lane building and Museum Square is density and location.

Museum Square is proposing density of 40.87 dwelling units per acre.

“I mean that’s four different residential projects over seven acres versus just taking one parcel of land like the Bishop Lane project and doing it lot line to lot line…” Larsen said. 

He also pointed out that three of the residential buildings at Museum Square will face Goldwater Boulevard, a larger and more active street than Bishop Lane.