Council Shelves Ironwood Plan , Future in Doubt

The controversial 92 Ironwood apartment project near the intersection of 92nd Street and Shea Boulevard is dead for now, but it might come back in the future. 


Scottsdale City Council was scheduled to vote on rezoning the 8.59 acres earmarked for the site but developer Jim Riggs requested a second continuance. Riggs’ attorney Kurt Jones pointed out the council had granted a second continuance to the developer of the Greenbelt 88 project at the corner of Hayden and Osborn roads, which council approved 5-2 on Feb. 8. 


But after much discussion, Council voted to deny a second continuance and began deliberating on the rezoning.


However just before the vote, it did not look like Riggs had enough votes for approval so Jones requested Mayor David Ortega pull it from the agenda.


That means Riggs must start all over with the city approval process if he decides to take a second shot at it. The city Planning Commission and Design Review Board both will need to consider the project before it goes back to Council. 


But Jones is not certain Riggs will want to go that route. 


“We haven’t made that decision yet,” Jones said Wednesday. 


The Planning Commission originally voted 4-3 to recommend approval last September and the Design Review Board voted 6-0 to recommend approval earlier that month. 


Riggs had made several last-minute changes to the project that were submitted just hours before the council meeting, including reducing the number of apartment units from 285 to 273, scaling back the fourth floor of the building to make it less visible from the street and reducing the square footage from 318,900 to 308,000.


Those changes upset a number of council members because they were made at the last second. 


“We don’t do that to city councils; we don’t bring something forward minutes before (a vote),” Ortega said. 


But the timing of the changes was the exact reason a second a continuance should be granted, argued Vice Mayor Tammy Caputi and Councilwoman Linda Milhaven.


“I think some of the reasons my colleagues are not going to approve a continuation is the very reason why we need a continuation,” Milhaven said. “This council should not move forward without the property home owners association’s approval of this project. 


“It’s absolutely necessary. I don’t think they’re going to be persuaded or not based on the action we take tonight, which is why I don’t think we should take any action without their approval,” Millhaven said.


“My understanding was they did approve the change in use to residential,” she continued. “Their concerns were about how tall the building was in certain parts of the parcel, how far back from the road it was. They have been very specific and very clear about what they wanted to see in terms of heights and setbacks and masking of the building. If the applicant were to comply with that, it may well get an approval. So the continuance gives them time to revise the site plan and meet the home owners association requests.”

Jaime Uhrich, the president of the McCormick Ranch Home Owners’ Association in which 92 Ironwood sits, stated the HOA didn’t object to the rezoning but only to the architecture – such as the height of the building and its density.


“We did say we will approve a change in use and we would approve of development standards that need to be changed in order for this to happen,” Uhrich said. 


Caputi echoed Milhaven’s sentiment.


“I’m just sitting up here feeling more and more uncomfortable,” she said. “We’re always told were not supposed to negotiate from the dais and that’s sort of what we’re doing now … We’ve been given so much information that’s new it’s hard to make a good decision. If we’re forced to make a decision, yes or no, it’s probably not going to be the right decision.”


Ortega opposed the project’s density. 


Councilwoman Betty Janik listed six reasons why she did not support the continuance.


“Number one, you had ample time to get approval from the McCormick Ranch HOA,” she said.  “Number two, I question the traffic study significantly. … Additionally, and this is extremely important, a review of the traffic and accident rates shows this area is one of the busiest in the city.”


The third reason was the plan includes a change in zoning for adjacent property Riggs does not own. “I object to this backdoor maneuvering,” she said.


She said Riggs told the McCormick Ranch HOA members the entire council supported the project. “You do not speak for me, this is not acceptable,” Janik said.  


Fifth, the shopping center adjacent to the property is thriving, “unlike the Greenbelt 88, which was facing the shutdown of the big box stores.”


Finally, she said the residents in the area are strongly against the project. 


Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield said, “Ever since this project was proposed months ago the neighbors who would be most impacted by it have made it crystal clear that they are opposed to it and judging from our mail over the last few days, they still are. Not only are they opposed to this particular project; they are opposed to the precedence it sets for future dense projects along the Shea corridor.”


Littlefield echoed Janik’s concerns over the traffic the project would generate and added “(Riggs) is basically asking us for our approval so he can continue to pressure the McCormick Ranch HOA board to act against their own rules and what they see as their own best interest.”


Councilman Tom Durham said he was originally prepared to vote for a continuance. 


“I think the applicant in any project is always entitled to give us their best shot,” Durham said.


But then he noticed Riggs’ proposal does not include a development agreement enforcing Riggs’ promise of rental rate discounts for firefighters, nurses, police officers, and teachers and even include one free unit for a police officer. He also promised discounted rates for anyone working within a mile of the apartment building. 


“Without a development agreement, those are meaningless … since we don’t have one, I do question the appropriateness of presenting this project without the necessary conditions that are necessary to go forward with this project,” Durham said. 


Jones said Riggs intended to incorporate those promises in an operating agreement with whatever company signs on to run the project. Putting those stipulations in a development agreement makes the city liable for enforcing them, which is something Riggs and his team figured the city would not want.


 Jones added he would be glad to provide a development agreement instead if the continuance was granted.


Author: J. Graber


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