Work on the Scottsdale’s Indian Bend Wash Masterplan is progressing and could be brought before the City Council for approval by early 2020.
The masterplan includes improvements to both infrastructure and recreational amenities within the area of the wash running through Vista del Camino and Eldorado Parks and marks one of the most significant investments in Scottsdale’s greenbelt since it was built decades ago.
Scottsdale’s Indian Bend Greenbelt is considered “a gem of flood control, recreation and livability,” said Jeff Velasquez, principal landscape architect with J2 Engineering, a city contractor working on the masterplan. “It’s studied worldwide.”
Before its construction, the area was a flood hazard residents referred to as “The Slough” often divided the community due to flooding caused by heavy rains locally or runoff from rain in the north.
In June 1972, record rainfall caused water to overrun The Slough and flood nearby roads and neighborhoods. One man died and 17 people were left homeless, according to Scottsdale Public Library records.
In the 1960s, the Army Corps of Engineers had plans to address the issue by building a large concrete canal similar to the one encases the Los Angeles River.
However, a full-throttle community effort resulted in the greenbelt.
One of the first mentions of the idea appeared in the Scottsdale Daily Progress when resident Bill Walton wrote a column suggesting the city build a park like Central Park in New York City instead of a concrete canal.
Longtime Progress Publisher Jonathan Marshall was another supporter of the greenbelt, and the paper’s editorial pages advocated for the project.
Though construction began in the 1970s, the city did not officially dedicate the Indian Wash Greenbelt until 1985.
“Today is indeed a very momentous occasion for all of us,” then-Mayor Herb Drinkwater said at the ceremony. “After more than 20 years, one of the world’s outstanding solutions to flooding is nearly completed.”
Over 30 years after its completion, the city is once again looking to invest in greenbelt – although this time it's paying for it on its own.
The city allocated $2.2 million to the masterplan project last year, according to the city’s 2018-19 capital improvement plan.
The current capital improvement plan includes an additional $1.1 million allocated to the masterplan and to “Design and implement an interim solution for repair of the drainage structure north of McKellips Road.”
Back when the greenbelt was first built, the city shared the financial load.
According to city estimates, Scottsdale paid around $14 million of the approximately $54 million it cost to construct the Indian Bend Wash project. The rest of the funds came from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a federal grant and state and county funds. The City of Tempe also contributed $100,000.
The new masterplan is largely based on resident feedback collected by city staff at public meetings and open houses from back in May.
“We originally came in with a blank slate,” said Jeremy Richter, the city’s project manager for the masterplan. “We said ‘what would you like to see in the future of these parks?’”
Richter said over 150 people attended each of the city’s open houses.
While much of the masterplan focuses on improved recreational facilities, the masterplan also deals with the greenbelt’s aging infrastructure.
Much of the infrastructure, including dams and lake liners, date back to the original construction of the Indian Bend Greenbelt in the 1970s and the materials have worn out or outright failed.
“Four decades later and the city is seeing this stuff getting worn out,” said Jeff Velasquez, principal landscape architect with J2 Engineering.
J2 Engineering is a city contractor working on the masterplan.
Jeff Engelmann, another principal landscape architect with J2, said the area at the northern end of the master-planned area has experienced chronic flooding due to dam failure, calling it a “major maintained nightmare and liability.”
“What happens upstream affects everything downstream,” Engelmann said at a recent open house at the El Dorado Park Community Center after a group asked about the persistent flooding issues.
The plan as it currently stands includes separating the section of the Indian Bend Greenbelt Wash between Thomas and McKellips into four distinct half-mile districts each have a general theme.
The northernmost district is the linkage district and will include parking, bike paths and improved trails and connections to northern segments of the greenbelt.
This segment will also include protection from golf activities – a concern brought up by residents in the past few years who fear being struck by errant golf balls from adjacent courses while riding bikes or walking through the wash.
The next segment, between Murray Lane and McDowell Road, is the active district and will continue to include the existing Boys and Girls Club building and a city aquatic center.
The active district will also include a skate park, renovated sports field, a splash pad and an adventure playground.
Next comes the passive district, located between McDowell Road and Roosevelt Street, which would include riparian lakes, a low-flow channel, multiuse paths, fishing and disc golf.
The current masterplan draft calls for a reduction in the number of lakes in a passive section of the greenbelt from three to two lakes.
Under the current plan, the city would remove the existing middle lake to provide more room for recreation, said Velasquez,
The new plan would include a river feature connecting the remaining two lakes.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department would still stock the remaining lakes with fish for urban fishing, Velasquez said.
The final segment of the masterplan is the waterplay district, which will include recreational lakes with a boathouse and dock, a splash pad, a dog park and an adventure playground.
Richter said the masterplan has changed over the past year based on community feedback.
One of the most significant changes includes the relocation of a maintenance compound and yard was planned along Miller Road north of McDowell Road.
Richter said the city heard complaints from residents who currently have a full view of the park from their homes would have been blocked by the new yard and made the decision to relocate the yard to a less visible area.
The project team also reduced the number of soccer/multiuse fields in the plan from three to two in order to make room for basketball courts and sand volleyball courts.
Additionally, Richter said bathrooms were added near planned splash pads at the request of the public.
Actual work on improvements to the wash between Thomas and McKellips Roads will not begin until the City Council approves the masterplan.
Assistant City Manager Bill Murphy said he anticipates city staff will take the plan before the City Council in early 2020.
Richter, the project manager, called the masterplan “30,000-foot view” provides the overall outline for improvements to the affected section of the wash.
Murphy said individual project specifics, such as the size of a splash pad, will not be identified until later in the process.
As far as which projects the city will prioritize if the City Council approves the masterplan, Murphy said “the lakes are a primary concern” due to considerable erosion.
The city has an identified funding source for at least a portion of the lake projects.
The recently-passed $112.3-million bond question for community spaces and infrastructure included $23.5 million to improve lakes and irrigation in the Vista del Camino Park.