Economic growth and dominated the final Scottsdale City Council forum prior to the Nov. 3 General Election.
With early ballots going out this week, Candidates Tammy Caputi, Tom Durham, Betty Janik, Becca Linnig, John Little and incumbent Councilman Guy Phillips are running for three open seats on the Council.
All six candidates attended the online forum initially, though Linnig left following introductions due to a family emergency.
The candidates sparred on several topics – most frequently economic development – at the Sept. 23 forum, which was hosted by the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce, Scottsdale Leadership, SCOTT and Scottsdale Arts and moderated by Scottsdale Community College President Chris Haines.
The candidates uniformly supported elements in the city’s existing General Plan that designated three “economic growth areas” where economic development should be concentrated, including the Scottsdale Airpark, McDowell Road Corridor and downtown Scottsdale.
But the field was split on what exactly constitutes appropriate development and how the city can continue to diversify and grow its economy while remaining attractive to residents.
“Forty-seven percent of our city budget comes from sales tax revenue,” Caputi said. “And we have to make sure that we don’t antagonize the business community but that we encourage development in our city in areas that make sense.”
Still, she acknowledged a need to balance that development with the city’s open spaces like the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, arguing those amenities are made possible by the city’s strong economy.
“Again, we can’t just have a city where we alienate all the people that want to invest in our future,” Caputi said.
Durham, a critic of Council’s approval of some developments like Southbridge Two, said the city’s economy is already strong.
He cited the city’s attractiveness as a job market, and that businesses seeking to develop here should have to abide by existing zoning and design guidelines.
“My concern over development is that if developers want to come to Scottsdale, they’ve got to live by the rules,” Durham said. “We have very specific zoning rules that are intended to keep our special character.”
Durham added that “too many developers are coming in who automatically ask for variances on height and density, and we’ve seen those variances granted over and over and over again over the last four years.”
Janik, another Southbridge Two critic, took aim at large infrastructure paybacks handed out by the city in recent years to attract new investment from existing employers like Axon and Nationwide and an influx of high-rise developments planned for the downtown.
“Southbridge Two is a perfect example,” Janik said. “It was approved (and) what happened? The citizens had to have a referendum to say, wait a second, it’s too much.”
On the Axon reimbursement, Janik asked why the city was giving taxpayer dollars to a successful company.
Janik argued information about the costs and potential benefits of the Axon deal were not readily available to average citizens and the city did not take enough time to weigh the risk versus reward of these deals before they were approved by Council.
But Little, a former city manager in Scottsdale, said he felt the city was transparent in how it weighed comparative costs and benefits of the Axon deal.
“The development agreement was there for you to look at: $12 million investment on the city’s part; $16 million return on our investment for Axon,” Little said.
Though he did not cite Southbridge Two specifically, Little – a supporter of that project – argued that growth and development in southern and central parts of the city actually subsidizes the quality of life elsewhere rather than harm it.
He cited a 2011 development forecast by Applied Economics that found growth in the southern and central parts of the city would generate city revenue while growth in the northern reaches actually cost the city money due to the need to provide services in the less densely-populated area.
“So in essence, we’ve got parts of the city that Betty and Tom and Guy are really worried about us doing development in but those are the areas that are paying for the quality of life that the people in the north enjoy,” Little said. “So let’s see if we can find a little balance in our community where growth does pay for itself.”
Phillips, the only incumbent in the race, found himself partially in agreement with both sides.
Phillips, like Janik and Durham, was an active participant in the referendum campaign that ultimately killed Southbridge Two “because it would have destroyed 5th Avenue.”
But Phillips said the area north of Scottsdale Airpark near Loop 101 – the site of Nationwide and Axon’s new developments – is the right spot for new development because “the public benefit far outweighs the aesthetic look of what they wanted.”
“Sure, for 30 seconds on the (Loop 101) freeway heading east you won’t see a portion of the McDowell (Mountains),” Phillips said.
Phillips noted that much of the property backs up to the freeway and a city water treatment plant and the new Axon headquarters is expected to have an economic impact of around $8 billion over 10 years.
“It’s very hard to say no to that,” Phillips said.