Scottsdale residents and business

Some Scottsdale residents and business owners have complained about scooters being left in the middle of sidewalks, in violation of the city’s ordinance. (Photo Courtesy Larry Kush)

The additional public outreach stipulated by the City Council for the redevelopment project at Papago Plaza has resulted in some small but significant changes to the designs.

Some residents voiced support for the project and the vibrancy they thought it would bring to a dormant shopping center while others decried the lack of retail, height of buildings and inclusion of a hotel and 274 units of apartment housing.

The proliferation of apartment housing, specifically, has been a major complaint for residents throughout southern Scottsdale.

A city report from 2017 said more than 1,300 new residential units had been built in the McDowell Corridor in the past few years.

The development team took the comments from the City Council meeting and the sometimes-heated first resident meeting and incorporated them into the plan for the Papago Plaza redevelopment.

At the second community meeting, architect Jeff Brand with Nelsen Partners showed the ways in which the development team have incorporated the feedback into the design of the project, which will feature a grocery store, hotel and apartment complex along with ground-level restaurants and retail.

The development team decided to add additional retail space in the ground level of the apartment building. The balance between apartment and retail space had been a major sticking point for some residents who were concerned that there are not enough services in the area to meet the needs of the growing residential base.

The team also reconfigured the site to include more open space.

“Based on what we heard (from the City Council), we looked at a larger and much more expanded public open space for the project,” Brand said.

Brand said the design team rearranged some buildings on the site to combine smaller open space areas into one larger space that more than doubled the size of the public open space in the plaza area of the project.

Public art was another issue brought up by the City Council and residents.

The council made it clear that it would like to see public art on the corner of Scottsdale and McDowell roads that represented the area and acted as a screening wall of sorts to the building and drive-thru that will be on the corner.

“What we ended up landing on was something that kind of mimicked the profile of the Papago Buttes,” Brand said, referring to it as “an art installation on the corner” that people can occupy and walk through.

He said the team would like to incorporate salvaged materials from the original Papago Plaza if possible, but he will not know if that is feasible until the original plaza is torn down.

“If there’s stuff that comes out of there that we feel like is aesthetically pleasing and nice and that has a good feel to it, we’d love to incorporate salvaged material into that … (but) we don’t want to just pile up a bunch of old concrete,” Brand said.

Other areas influenced by the community include the design of the apartment buildings, aesthetic features on the parking garage, and the use of local artists to create murals for the new development.

Brand said the developer is currently in the process of contacting local artists who could work on the project.

“We’d love to keep the content localized, and we’d love for the artists themselves to either be local artists or artists that have a local presence in the community,” Brand said.

The changes were encouraging to resident Andrea Alley.

Alley is part of a group of Scottsdale residents that organized the South Scottsdale Project, which is described as a “hub for people to learn more about the people, places, businesses, and future developments that make South Scottsdale the best place to live…” on the group’s website.

“It’s been a very refreshing experience for somebody from the resident side (to see) just how much they’re willing to be open and available to those of us who live nearby with our concerns and then they’re willing to address them or find ways to compromise,” Alley said.

Alley cited the developer’s willingness to plant trees in the backyards of residents who neighbor the parking garage and the decision to add additional retail space as examples of that compromise.

Property owner Lee Mashburn met with four residents whose properties back up closely to the project and talked about what the development team can do to mitigate the impact on those residents.

One of those residents showed up to the first community meeting and expressed concerns about the height of the parking garage and that it may allow people to see or throw things into his backyard.

Brand said the trees are one way to deal with that issue.

Alley, who sat down with Brand to better understand the plans for the redevelopment, said she came away convinced that the developer is committed to creating a high-quality project that she referred to as a “legacy project” for southern Scottsdale.

“Those (compromises) are things that no developer has to do, but we really want to build a legacy project, and I really think that (Brand) has his team are doing everything they can to do that,” she said.

Still, those changes might not assuage some of the more vocal critics from the first meeting, who were critical of the amount of residential in the complex and the height of the apartments and parking garage – which was not lost on Alley.

“I think the most disappointing aspect of the whole thing is that it ended up being five-story apartment building,” Alley said.

She acknowledged that property owners have long said they require new rooftops to support retail but that “they need to be willing to listen to the resident perspective as well. It goes both ways.”

At the first community meeting, Brand cited the City Council’s vote to approve zoning for the project and said wholesale changes – like undergrounding the parking garage or getting rid of the residential component – were not going to happen at this late juncture.

In reality, those types of changes were likely outside of the scope of the public meetings anyway.

Mayor Jim Lane said the project has already been approved by the City Council and now only has to go before the Development Review Board, which reviews issues like safety and design specifications.

“Essentially, they are ready to build subject to that (Development Review Board) review,” Lane said. “If it passes and if they decide to still that they want council to review it, we can only look at it (according to) the development review process. We can’t turn around and say no, you can’t build it.”

At this point, many local residents are focused on what brands will come into the new development.

Aldi, the discount grocery store chain, is thought to be the operator behind the grocery store after renderings associated with the project featured the company’s logo.

Some residents hoped for a full-service chain like Safeway to occupy the space, but zoning attorney Jason Morris, who worked on the project, said the larger chains did not have interest in the site.

Beyond Aldi, there is little word on which specific operators will be filling the new Papago Plaza development, though a “well-known” coffee chain with a drive-through will occupy retail space at the corner of Scottsdale and McDowell roads, Morris said at the meeting.

Southern Scottsdale Project provided some further guesses on its Facebook page, speculating that Springhill Suites would be the hotel operator.

The Scottsdale Progress was unable to verify Springhill Suites' involvement in the development.

Brand said he anticipates construction will begin on the Papago Plaza redevelopment in July 2019 and be completed in Spring 2020.