Residents of a southern Scottsdale neighborhood have mobilized to push the owner of a nearby shopping center to lower proposed heights and densities bordering the city’s Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt.
The developer of the Greenbelt 88 project wants to redevelop most of the Lucky Plaza shopping center at Hayden and Osborn roads, replacing most of the buildings except the standalone bank and the Carl’s Jr. and Starbucks buildings, which are under separate ownership.
Property owner Todd Silver is asking the city to rezone the site to a planned unit development to make way for a four-story, 288-unit apartment building and 25,000 square feet of ground-level retail and restaurant space.
The rezoning would allow the developer to build up to maximum of heights of 48 feet with allowances up to 54 feet on up to 30 percent of the building to allow for rooftop mechanical systems. Under current zoning, the maximum allowable base height is 36 feet.
The proposed residential density – 41.6 units per acre – is also nearly double what’s currently allowed, neighbor Jan Vuicich said.
Vuicich started a community group called Safeguard Scottsdale after hearing about the Greenbelt 88 proposal in 2020 to advocate for neighbors who are concerned about increased heights and potential traffic issues.
The group has eight core members and 150 residents on its mailing list, she said.
Vuicich agrees the aging shopping center should be redeveloped, but opposes the height and density of the proposed apartment building, which would be located on the west side of the property abutting the greenbelt.
She said she didn’t think that kind of height should be sandwiched next to the greenbelt and worries that approval of one project like this would set a precedent.
“So initially we were saying we don’t want apartments, but if we’re gonna do apartments, can you bring it down? Can we get the density closer to what it’s supposed to be?” she said.
Though the existing retail center is aging, Vuicich said the businesses there, such as Big 5 Sporting Goods and longtime restaurant Uncle Sal’s, are still frequented by locals.
She is worried the new project – which reduces commercial retail space from around 60,000 to 25,000 square feet – will make it difficult for some of those businesses to stick around.
Jason Morris, an attorney for the property owner, told the Scottsdale Planning Commission that his client is working with Uncle Sal’s in an attempt to move them to a new building on the property and that there is interest from other retailers to sign leases if the new development is approved by the city.
Vuicich and her group found allies on the city’s Planning Commission, which considered the project on June 9 but did not make a recommendation for approval to City Council.
Instead, the Commission voted 4-3 to give the project a continuance so the developer has more time address community concerns.
Commission Chair Renee Higgs and Commissioners Christian Serena, Barry Graham and Barney Gonzales voted to continue the project.
The Commission does not have official authority over zoning cases but makes recommendations to Council, which has the final say.
Not everyone is critical of Greenbelt 88.
At the Commission meeting on June 9, half of the 10 public comments supported it.
Representatives for the developer pointed to a number of potential benefits to the local community, including a new public path that would run along the greenbelt.
Jeff Brand, the project’s architect, said a landscaped bike and walking path will increase public access alongside the west side of the greenbelt on space that currently houses dumpsters and the back of stores.
The path would run along the southern and western edges of the property to connect Hayden Road at the southeast corner of the property to Osborn on the northwest corner.
Brandt, who also lives in the neighborhood, said he believes the path would be used often by locals.
“I can completely say that I’ll take my kids down there,” Brandt said. “We’ll walk down there, sit, enjoy and the sunset, hopefully get an ice cream on the way back home.”
Jason Morris, the zoning attorney on the project, said that while the ownership has kept the existing plaza in good shape, an outdated shopping center is not the best use for the site.
He pointed out that the proposed Greenbelt 88 project fits the city General Plan, which calls for mixed-use neighborhoods that can accommodate higher density residential.
The project also supplies enough parking to comply with the recently beefed-up parking code and, according to the developer’s traffic study, will likely result in less traffic overall than the current use.
The study by CivTech Inc. found the project as proposed would generate 614 fewer daily weekday trips overall, though it would result in a small increase of 41 daily trips during the morning rush hour.
Morris said the project is set back over 100 feet from Hayden Road, and the height was necessary for covered parking space for the apartments.
He added that there is also an effort underway to retain some of the existing businesses in the center.
The development team said it met with neighbors on multiple occasions and efforts has been made to find common ground with the community.
That included reducing the number of apartment units from 300 to 288 and adding the retail component. Morris said original plans did not include retail.
Brandt said at neighbors’ request, the project will also be built in conformance with Scottsdale’s Green Building Program, which requires developers to adopt environmentally-sensitive building techniques.
Those concessions were not enough to persuade Planning Commission, though.
Serena and Graham questioned whether or not that truly qualified as a mixed use, a designation that carries higher height allowances than typical apartment zoning.
Of the project’s 316,980 total square footage, about 296,000 square feet – or 93 percent – will be used for apartments, leaving only 7 percent for retail.
Serena said Greenbelt 88 is just the latest example of a project seeking planned unit development multi-use project rezoning despite having one predominant use.
City Planning Director Tim Curtis said most mixed-use projects approved by the city since the PUD zoning was adopted have featured mostly residential uses due to market demand.
Some on the commission suggested developers are taking advantage of the mixed-use zoning to gain increased heights for apartment projects.
Curtis said the city is aware of that concern.
“I think that without getting specific on the numbers, I think that it has heavily been weighted toward residential, and you may have seen a trend over the years where there’s been a gradual increase in some commercial, because I know that you’re not alone in that sentiment,” he said.
Curtis said there has been a desire by city staff and the public to see a more even mix of uses in these developments “so this isn’t just R-5 on steroids.”
Some on the Planning Commission also echoed Vuicich, who said the heights of the building are too close to the greenbelt.
“If you’re coming east on Osborn heading towards Hayden…the first thing you’re going to see is a four-story-plus building, and given the Greenbelt that is not quite appropriate for that,” she said.
She said she requested the developer consider lower heights next to the greenbelt that are stepped up to four stories at the interior of the property, but the owner declined.
New Planning Commissioner Barney Gonzales had similar concerns.
“I would like to see a little bit less massing of the building right at the greenbelt edge there on the building’s west side,” he said. “Let’s see if we could do any step backs or anything back down with the elevations.”
Even with those comments, both Vuicich and critics on the Planning Commission acknowledged the need to update the shopping center and expressed a desire to find some sort of compromise with the property owners.
Serena said he would be willing to reconsider support for the project if the developer was willing to make some changes, such as dedicating about 10,000 square feet of flex space for additional retail space.
“I would be happy to give you a continuance and have a chance to come back and see what the neighborhood reaction is and possibly approve this, because I think the neighborhood needs something that would freshen it up,” Serena said. “But just as it, as it stands right now, I just, haven’t seen a willingness to make significant changes to the project.”