(Source: ScottsdaleIndependent): Melissa Fittro – A majority of city council is looking at the bigger picture, they say, as a proposal to significantly expand Scottsdale Fashion Square has been approved.
Scottsdale City Council Tuesday, Aug. 29 rendered its decisions to allow expansions at the landmark retail center at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
The local governing board voted 5-2 with Councilmembers Kathy Littlefield and David Smith dissenting.
Sitting on the northwest corner of Camelback and Scottsdale roads and surrounded by several other retail shops, office buildings and restaurants is the retail shopping keystone community leaders say generates over $10 million a year — which is about 7 percent — of total city sales tax remits.
Macerich, Fashion Square’s California-based owner, has been seeking approval from municipal leaders to expand the mall along Highland Avenue by amending the zoning restrictions on the 56-acre site and increasing building heights up to 150 feet.
Since 1961 the Fashion Square has been providing Scottsdale residents and some 8 million annual visitors with retail needs. First with Goldwater’s Department Store, and now with more than 200 shops and restaurants.
The city staff’s presentation was given by Senior Planner Bryan Cluff, while Macerich was represented by prominent local Zoning Attorney John Berry of Berry & Riddell LLC. More than 40 requests to speak were submitted to the local dais, Mayor Jim Lane said during the meeting.
The Development Review Board heard this case on Dec. 15, 2016, and recommended approval with a 6-0 vote. Planning Commission reviewed the application on June 28, and recommended approval with a 5-0 vote.
On Friday, July 14, a group coined the “SFS Mall Oversight Group, Inc.” filed a legal protest with Scottsdale City Clerk Carolyn Jagger, including 294 signatures of residents living to the north and to the west of the mall. The protest was deemed invalid, according to a city staff report.
Neighbors in opposition
Neighbors against the project voiced myriad concerns including proposed building heights and future traffic congestion.
City council members each made individual comments on their feelings toward the project, and many echoed the same sentiment: “We let Los Arcos Mall close and we can’t let this close.” Furthermore, elected officials also pointed out Valley malls, such as Fiesta and Metro malls that have since become vacant dinosaurs.
“For Macerich to look and say ‘what’s the future of retail, can we add some residential, can we add some office,’ — I think they’re being very smart and they’re being very flexible and being very resilient,” Councilwoman Linda Milhaven said during the meeting. “We don’t know what the future holds, but if more people want to live and work in our downtown, I’m all for it.”
Dissenting council members cited a need for additional detail on the project. Councilman David Smith put forth a motion to continue the item to a later date. The continuance died on the dais, 4-3, with Councilmembers Smith, Littlefield and Guy Phillips voting in support.
In what is said to be the Fashion Square’s blueprint for the next 20 years, the development proposal includes potential future land uses including additional retail, office, hotel, restaurant, multifamily residential and a grocer. Mr. Berry says specific details have not been laid out because this property plans to “respond to the market,” he explained.
In an estimate created with example purposes for this project, developers believe a cumulative direct economic impact to the city of Scottsdale could exceed $17 million, the staff report states. The estimate includes a 200-room hotel, a grocery store and 1 million square feet of office uses with tenants, over a five-year period.
“As you look around, and we think about what other communities have done and failed to do in maintaining downtowns — they die,” Mayor Lane said during the meeting.
“It’s always been a big part of what I would want to advance, and that’s making sure our downtown evolves, and it creates an environment that as marketplaces change, they’re able to adjust to it.”
Eagerly awaiting to buck the trend in brick-and-mortar retail malls, Scottsdale Fashion Square’s owners, Macerich have asked to expand their footprint.
The site included in the approved proposal consists of the existing Fashion Square property, and extends south of east Camelback Road to east Via Soleri Drive, encompassing Nordstrom’s department store and garage. The site does not include the Dillard’s department store and associated surface parking, or the Amtrust Tower. In addition to this zoning request, Macerich is set to begin construction on the mall, 7014 E. Camelback Road, in September to enhance the interior and exterior. These changes did not require any municipal approval.
Mr. Berry says his client is a longtime partner with the city, and the proposed expansion project will better-allow the city to protect and sustain its assets.
“I think we can all agree that Fashion Square is critical to our economic health, and our quality of life,” he said. “Adding five more floors in very limited area to allow hotels and residential, offices, allows this community to protect and sustain a critical tourism attraction and economic engine.”
Scottsdale’s retail mecca generates total annual sales exceeding $650 million, and contributed nearly $50 million in sales tax revenue to the city from 2012 to 2015, retail proponents contend.
Macerich aims to amend the zoning district map in order to establish the framework for future development of the mall property, according to the city staff report.
At most, the proposal could accommodate up to 1.8 million additional square feet of commercial floor area, and 1,625 dwelling units. The density allowable is 50 dwelling units per acre, but the applicant has stipulated they will only build to 25 units per acre.
With the former zoning, Macerich could have built a large 90-foot rectangular building on the empty lot that once housed a hotel, Mr. Berry illustrated with artists renderings of their vision for the property.
The 150-foot allowance and agreed upon set-backs and step-backs — with an additional stipulation for 30 percent open space — paves a much more desired look for the area, Mayor Lane and Councilman Phillips both said.
“We support this important and critical component of our downtown, and the results are evident today,” Mr. Berry said. “Fashion Square is much more than a mall. However, we cannot be complaisant, we cannot sit still. We have to look forward.”
What is the future of Scottsdale?
Voting for the continuance, Councilmembers Littlefield, Smith and Phillips all iterated sentiments of standing up for the residents.
“I want more definition, I want to know where this is going to be,” Councilwoman Littlefield said.
“I have to keep going back to the citizens — many are worried that they are going to be drowned in the shadows and the traffic this will bring. Their standard of living and quality of life, bought under a different understanding. This isn’t just one or two people.”
The councilwoman says she wants what is best for her constituents, and rebuked the idea that residents who signed a petition opposing the project were “troublemakers.”
“To say they’re troublemakers or problem people, they’re not, they’re citizens of the city,” she said during the public hearing. “They are more important to me than the money the city may or may not gain from this. There is no guarantee of success in this endeavor, and we have to live every day with what is built there.”
Councilman Smith voiced his support and admiration for the mall, but says he had difficulty seeing how what was proposed would benefit the community.
“I’m not voting against the project — I don’t know what the project is,” he said. “There’s such ambiguity, I would love to see specifics, like we do on most other projects. Sometimes we see it on the back of an envelope, but we don’t even have that here.”
“I’m sensitive to what many neighbors have said tonight. It doesn’t seem to be enhancing the neighborhood, in my opinion,” he added.
Noting the city staff report’s statement that an advantage of this project would be to add to the city’s downtown population, Councilman Smith asked just how large Scottsdale is trying to be?
Independent records show, on May 3, city officials presented the findings of a year-long study coined Downtown Scottsdale 2.0 in three public meetings.
The downtown Scottsdale residential population goal should be 8,200 residents by 2025, which would require an additional 1,050 residential units CSL International Principal John Kaatz said during the May presentation.
The study is a part of planning the future of downtown and Old Town Scottsdale through a five-year strategic plan for the city’s tourism and events department.
Ultimately, Downtown Scottsdale 2.0 aims to provide a longterm sustainable environment that will attract multiple generations of visitors and an additional downtown residential population.
Councilman Phillips described himself as an elected leader who has voted against many multifamily housing proposals during his time on council. This item is different, he says.
Recalling a question he received during his first election, Mr. Phillips says he has thought about the question of growth in his city and ultimately come to the conclusion the city can’t block new residents.
“Especially in the last couple of years, studies have said that over 2 million people are moving here — you can’t say ‘no.’ They’re going to come anyway,” Councilman Phillips says. “In my mind, we better be building quality properties so we get quality residents. That’s how I look at it.”
In addition to focusing on a product that’s good for the residents of downtown, Councilman Phillips says tourism can’t be forgotten about.
“I believed Scottsdale was a tourism town,” he said.
“We have to maintain that, we have to maintain that because they pay for most of our taxes. To me, if tourism pays for 20 percent of our taxes, let’s make them pay 30 percent — let’s get more out of them — let’s make them pay 50 percent. Why not be that way? We have to do things regrettably, that maybe you don’t like, for that tourism.”
In his closing comments, the councilman posed a serious thought to the rest of Scottsdale when it comes to considering the value of the mall. Touching on the failed malls throughout the Valley, Councilman Phillips asked, why not Scottsdale?
“That didn’t happen to Fashion Square, and why didn’t that happen to Fashion Square?” he asked. “We want Fashion Square to be here in 2050 and 2100. We can’t deny Macerich their ability to keep up with the times and keep Fashion Square as the tourist draw it is.”