southbridge referendum

Volunteers with the Committee for the Preservation of Old Town Scottsdale, including former Scottsdale Councilman David Ortega (left), unload boxes of signed petitions at City Hall less than an hour before the 5 p.m. deadline on Jan. 3.

Petitioners seeking to put the Southbridge Two development before voters crossed their first major hurdle on Friday, turning in over 17,000 signatures to the city in support of their referendum.

The Committee for the Preservation of Old Town Scottsdale political action committee turned in a dozen boxes of signed petitions to the Scottsdale City Clerk less than an hour before the 5 p.m. deadline on Jan. 3.

The PAC is seeking to let voters decide whether or not Southbridge Two can move forward under zoning approved by City Council, which, among other approvals, includes allowances for heights up to 150 feet in some areas of the project.

The Council approved the zoning for Springcreek Development’s ambitious proposed redevelopment of much of downtown’s 5th Avenue shopping district on Dec. 4.

Arizona state law allows city residents to file referendum petitions challenging city council zoning decisions within 30 days of the action.

Detractors of the project have argued that its height and density will ruin the existing character of downtown Scottsdale and years of construction will put area retailers out of business.

“Everyone is fed up with this type of redevelopment and the Council not listening…we don’t want high rises anywhere; we just want our skyline,” said PAC Chair Janet Wilson, who owns several properties bordering the proposed redevelopment.

However, Carter Unger with Springcreek Development said the project is needed to infuse year-round traffic into the area in order to provide a steadier flow of customers for his tenants, who struggle during the tourism off-season.

“People are leaving the downtown to go seek vibrant live-work-play atmosphere, and we’re not protecting anybody by just staying with same,” Unger said. “We will have continual overturn (and) places will continue to close down.”

The PAC turned in 1,326 petition sheets that "purportedly contain approximately 17,116 signatures" according to Scottsdale City Clerk Carolyn Jagger.

Jagger confirmed the sheet count but said the individual signature counting would take place next week.

The PAC needs 11,930 valid signatures to put the issue before voters.

Jagger told the Progress that her office’s signature count is only the first step in the process, though.

The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office is responsible for generating a random 5 percent sample of signatures.

That sample will then be tested against voter rolls by the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office to determine the validity of signatures. The error rate of the random sample will then be applied to the total signatures turned in to determine the total number of valid signatures.

Under state law, the whole process can take up to 20 business days from the time the clerk verifies the signature count, Jagger said.

The Clerk’s office spent approximately two hours counting the sheets on Friday night with two observers from the PAC present, including downtown gallery owner Bob Pejman.

Heading into the count, members of the PAC were confident they had gathered enough signatures to put the issue before voters, estimating they had collected between 17,000 and 18,000 signatures in the month leading up to the count.

“It’s amazing how many people showed up,” Wilson said.

Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips, who voted against approving Southbridge Two and is running for reelection in 2020, volunteered at the PAC headquarters in downtown Scottsdale to collect signatures.

Phillips previously said he had concerns over how the height and density of the Southbridge Two project would affect tourism and downtown business owners.               

However, Phillips said he would have supported the PAC’s efforts even if also supported Southbridge Two, stating that he “loved” to see residents exercising their rights.

“Even if I was for this project, I would help because it’s their right to do this,” Phillips said, referring to the Arizona statute allowing for citizen referendums against Council zoning decisions. “If it is that important to them, let them decide.”

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the city clerk verified the signature total of 17,116.