Controversial apartment project returns with changes

The controversial 92 Ironwood apartment project is back on the city’s planning books with a new name and 17 other changes.

The Scottsdale Planning Commission voted 6-0 Wednesday to allow the application for the project, now called Mercado Courtyards, to come back for further consideration as a new application.

The commission has the authority to deny a request to consider an application for a project more than once in a year. However, with the changes made since it was approved by the panel in September 2021, the commission determined it was different and therefore eligible to reapply before the one-year moratorium.

The project went before City Council but the developer requested a continuance. That was granted but a second continuance requested at council’s Feb. 22 meeting was denied. The developer requested the application be pulled, which meant it had to start over at the beginning of the process.

“It’s not the same project and it’s a different application,” said commissioner Barney Gonzales.

The project, which now has approval from the McCormick Ranch Property Owners Association, also contains changes that contributed to its initial opposition – including removing the fourth floor of the building along 92nd Street so the only the building with a fourth floor is in the back of the property.

That results in a reduction of 30,300 square feet of residential living space and a 40-unit drop in the number of apartments to 273.

Other changes include an additional 11,000 square feet of open space to a total 110,300 square feet – three times the space required by the city; increased parking from 1.91 parking spaces per unit to 1.99 and the placement of the pool farther off 92nd Street.

Commissioner Christian Serena agreed that the project is different from the one presented before but was a little leery of giving approval.

“Why I’m pausing or hesitating here is because the thing we hear a lot from the neighbors is that things happen inside City Hall or decisions are made kind of secretively, behind the curtain type situation,” he said.

“Because there was a lot of neighborhood input on this project,” Serena continued, “I just want to make sure that one, our decision tonight is clear on what we are deciding on, which I think is clear to everybody up here but is also clear to any neighbors watching and the other point is … if we allow it to come back up for consideration without the 12 months, this therefore is being presented to planning for approval and then to Council.”

Deputy City Attorney Joe Padilla noted the city ordinance does not describe how the commission is supposed to determine whether it’s a different application, which Serena said left the panel “slicing the baloney pretty thin,” in the determination process.

He also warned Kurt Jones, an attorney for the developer, that it is going to be a difficult application process.

“You’ve got a big hill to climb as the applicant but you know that,” Serena said. “That’s no big secret there.”

Commissioner George Ertel said, “A lot of the comments we’ve received, the planning commission has received, from the community address whether we do or do not like apartments. Okay, that point is noted but that’s not the point we’re talking about.

“We’re talking about what commissioners Serena and Gonzales have said: is this the same application or is it a different one? Well sure, it’s the same piece of property and sure it’s still apartments but the structure has changed. As the applicant has pointed out, it needs to conform to a different general plan. The structure’s changed, certainly the number of units have diminished. There are fewer opportunities for residents so is it a different proposal? Yes.”

Nobody spoke against the project despite strong public outcry about it in the past.

Some area residents say the project is too big and will generate too much additional traffic at one of the city’s already busiest intersections, 92nd Street and Shea Boulevard.

The planning commission voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the project to Council in September 2021. Commission Chair Renee Higgs, Vice Chair Joe Young as well as commissioners George Ertel and William Scarborough voted in favor of recommending the zoning variance to allow it.

“I think the reason we need more apartments is because real estate is exploding,” Young said at the time. “I know my own home has tripled in value since I bought it. Those options to live in Scottsdale aren’t around anymore.

“I think people are still coming,” Young added. “There’s more and more employment coming to Scottsdale which I’ve got to believe, the city council, the mayor are happy about bringing tax dollars. We need a place to put these people and multi-family seems to be the answer.”

Commissioners Christian Serena, Barney Gonzalez and Barry Graham voted against the proposal.

Gonzalez was troubled by the project’s density.

“I appreciate everything the developer has done with this, believe me, and I like everything he did, he brought down the height, you know – I’m sure not entirely voluntarily but it was a reasonable decision to bring it down to the confines of the area,” he said at the time.

“That’s the hard part of zoning is trying to make a solid application that fits to the general public,” he continued. “So, my only problem with this is still the density part.”

The new density on the 8.59-acre parcel of property is proposed at 31.8 units per acre.


AUTHOR: J. Graber

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