Ballots for the Nov. 2 all-mail election on Scottsdale’s General Plan 2035 are starting to hit voters’ mailboxes.
The plan is the city’s state-mandated long-range planning document that broadly guides development and growth in the city.
If approved, this will be the first General Plan adopted by voters in 20 years and would bring the city back into compliance with state law, which requires cities to post voter-approved changes every 10 years.
Unlike the General Plan 2011, which was shot down by the voters, Mayor David Ortega said the General Plan 2035 is the result of open and honest discourse between City Council and the public.
“Regarding the 2011 failure, it stumbled badly because it was unable to get a complete conversation, a full conversation, with all the stakeholders,” Ortega said.
The General Plan 2011 was adopted by Council 5-2 but was rejected by voters 52-48 percent.
General Plan 2035 was approved unanimously by Council but Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield said she only voted for it in order to get it on the ballot.
“I will not personally be voting for it, for several reasons,” Littlefield said. “The two main reasons are: The vision statement is weak and doesn’t reflect what residents want Scottsdale to be in the future, and the matrix for land use changes actually weakens the protections on our land usage, encouraging over development.
“I urge citizens to review the revised general plan very carefully and compare it to our current plan. The new plan has many pretty pictures, but don’t be fooled: it is not beneficial to the long-term viability of our beautiful city.”
Vice Mayor Betty Janik disagrees.
“It’s a really, really good plan,” she said. “It does a great job protecting open space, a great job with sustainability and it does a great job with the environment.”
The plan is similar to the 2001 General Plan with a few key additions: a new element focusing on education and callouts to preserve the city’s equestrian and western heritage, protect the Scottsdale Airport and proposals addressing climate change.
“The education element is a huge plus,” Ortega said.
Maybe most importantly to getting the plan approved by the voters, Janik said, the new plan protects the integrity of land parcels in the northern half of the city.
“They’re being subdivided and sold off in one-acre parcels and (voters in Northern Scottsdale) don’t want that,” Janik said.
The plan also keeps in place a stipulation that states a major general plan amendment is triggered when parcels of 10 acres or more in southern Scottsdale are rezoned but that criteria jumps to 15 acres in the city’s northern half.
Unlike minor changes to the General Plan, major amendments are only heard once a year and require approval of a council supermajority.
The General Plan does not completely dictate the look of growth in Scottsdale, though, Janik said.
“At the end of the day city council gets to vote on the zoning change requests so we should be able to control it,” she said.
Councilman Tom Durham likes the education piece of the plan as well as the way it handles tourism.
“We made a separate element of tourism, that is obviously very important to Scottsdale’s future and economy,” he said.
The plan also strengthens development standards in a number of ways, ensuring incompatible developments do not abut each other and it also protects a diversity of housing in the city, from free-standing, single family homes to apartments.
“We’re making it clear there is a place in Scottsdale for everybody to live,” Durham said.
Councilwoman Linda Milhaven said the current plan is the product of an arduous public review process that took years to complete and involved a significant review by a 13-member citizen task force made up of members of city boards and commissions.
That task force met 13 times in 2020 to review and edit the plan in meetings that lasted as long as six hour.
“Not only was there a lot of opportunity for folks to comment, council took those comments very, very seriously and made lots of changes based on those comments,” Milhaven said.
In general, the plan is a solid vision for the city’s future, Ortega said.
“Every kind of organization, every sort of business and even household plans with a five-year and a 10-year horizon,” he said. “It is citizen driven. The city council, the staff and the citizens put it together and brought it to us voters so that we can affirm the Scottsdale we love.”