Opening envelope. Close-up top view of male hands opening envelope over wooden desk with different chancellery stuff laying on it

Council should have

celebrated Detroit Coney

On May 5, I listened intently to the Scottsdale City Council 2020-21 Budget presentation about cost centers, cash flow and declining revenue projections. Our city’s ability to weather the COVID-19 crisis hangs in the balance.  

Also on the agenda was Detroit Coney Grill’s orange awnings and canopy.

Ironically, the City of Scottsdale held a hatchet to the survival of a small business, new to Scottsdale.

In July 2019, Detroit Coney Grill signed a lease with the center at Indian Bend and Hayden and initiated all building permits, including new kitchen and covered outdoor seating.

For the awnings, they applied at staff-approval level of Blossom Orange fire-retardant material.   

But midway, the Development Review Board staff decided to bump the case to full Development Review Board hearing. To open as planned, the applicant did the “unimaginable” – they installed the blossom orange awning before the DRB hearing.

The outrage at Development Review Board resulted in a 3-3 tie, a continuance and then DRB voted 4-2 to deny.

Development Review Board staff then ordered that the $15,000 Orange awnings be removed and replaced with “teal” or other color – but not blossom orange as installed.

Detroit Coney Grill would have to sell 3,000 chili dogs to pay for the color change!

The applicant appealed to the City Council. By hearing the case, the Council would hear the facts for the first time, acting in the role of Development Review Board. 

At Council, everything went wrong.

In hearing the case, the City Council actually voided the DRB decision. The mayor should have recited the DRB preamble like at DRB and the discussions confined to “community standard colors” and merits of the color pertaining to the Detroit Coney Grill building, which is on a separate building pad.

 In the report, DRB staff listed voting options, including “Upholding” the previous DRB denial. 

Listen to the deliberations of Councilwomen Korte, Klapp and Littlefield. They talked about “breaking protocol, setting a bad precedent” and wanting to “uphold the volunteers serving on DR Board.” 

Councilwoman Milhaven hardly said a word. Councilwoman Whitehead talked about biking by the center. All five council women voted 5-2 to deny the blossom orange color, disregarding other DRB approved, citywide, stand-alone restaurants. 

I served on DR Board for 10 years, including four as councilman. In my 38+ years consulting as a Scottsdale architect, I have designed restaurants with awnings, including at Shops at Gainey Ranch.

In all cases retrofit, or new-build, the color of awnings was handled by staff.

After Council’s denial, the applicant was heading to Maricopa County Superior Court, exposing the taxpayers’ wallet. 

Mr. Randy Grant, the zoning official who advanced the case from Staff Approval to DRB, scrambled to meet with Coney Grill owners.

 Mr. Grant asked for a token concession – remove one west-facing awning – and he then approved blossom orange. 

Opening a business in Scottsdale should be a celebration!  Yes, applicants will stumble, but Scottsdale should always give a fair hearing at every level. Scottsdale can uphold design standards, but not put “protocol” over reason. 

-David Ortega