Phoenix OKs County Club Building Plan, Asks Developers To Work With Neighbors

By Steve Goldstein, Lauren Gilger
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2019 - 12:36pm
Updated: Thursday, March 21, 2019 - 2:29pm

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height is blight poster
Justin Stabley/KJZZ
"Height is Blight" poster placed on a Phoenix roadside.

The Phoenix City Council meeting on Wednesday night was contentious on multiple levels.

The council had two controversial issues on the docket — the expansion of the light rail into the West Valley and the approval of zoning for a high-rise in midtown Phoenix.

The council voted to approve zoning for the project, but asked the developer to work with neighbors to finalize a building plan.

Jessica Boehm of the Arizona Republic was there, and she joined The Show to talk about it.

The Show also turned to one of the opponents of the proposed high-rise: Neal Haddad with the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix.

LAUREN GILGER: There were also dozens of residents at the meeting who were there to fight against the zoning for a high-rise building to be built in the parking lot of the Phoenix Country Club in central Phoenix. How did the council handle this issue?

JESSICA BOEHM: You know, this situation has been going on for months and months, and just about a month ago, all of those same people who are very opposed to this potential high rise tower at the country club were at the City Council chambers, protesting, and Councilwoman Laura Pastor said, "OK, give me a month and I'm gonna broker some kind of deal here, like some kind of an agreement." And at that time, the developer was proposing 140 feet for the project. She did get them to come down to 110 feet. But it does not appear that anyone cared that much about that 30 feet.

GILGER: About the difference there, yeah.

BOEHM: Right. For the folks who were opposed, I mean, 140 feet, 110 feet — it's still a tower to them, and they are very concerned about the precedent it is setting.

GILGER: In their neighborhood, yeah. So we're going to hear from one of the residents in that neighborhood next on The Show. But what kind of reaction was there to this last night, now that they're obviously not happy about it?

BOEHM: You know, I think that more than anything, there was just a concern about how to ensure that, if this has to happen, that it is done in a way that doesn't set precedent, that it doesn't, you know, inspire other people, you know, on the next street over to decide that they can have high rise zoning — or zoning that allows a high rise, I should say — that would kind of trap their neighborhood with, you know, towers on all sides of them. So they're definitely concerned. I'm sure that they will tell you that. And it will be interesting to see what this does create, as far as precedent on Seventh Street.

GILGER: All right. That is Jessica Boehm with the Arizona Republic. Thank you so much, Jessica.

BOEHM: Thank you.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: And now we turn to one of the opponents of the proposed high rise that was talked about last night at the council meeting. Neal Haddad is with the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix. Neal, what happened last night? Did the council punt, in essence, on this decision?

NEAL HADDAD: Well, I think the bottom line is that, you know, the neighbors are going to work with the country club and the developer of this project. These are the hand that we've been dealt, and we're going to find a way to work with them. Your question does underscore the issues with zoning and on contentious cases, in particular, in the city of Phoenix. The process is not clear. Rezoning is a political decision. We understand. But there have to be rules undergirding these decisions, and that's where the frustration comes in. It was unclear. I think both sides — the developer and the neighbors in the neighborhood associations — really had an issue with how we got to this point. That being said, we're going to find a way to work it out.

GOLDSTEIN: Not knowing exactly how the developers are going to feel about this, are there certain compromises? The initial proposal was that the developers wanted it to be 15 stories. You and I talked about it being more of a mid-rise, much smaller than, much lower than 15. And now the Council is saying it could be 12 to 15. Is that even enough of a compromise for folks on your side, the neighborhood folks, to actually work with? I mean is there enough wiggle room there to actually make a difference?

HADDAD: Well, there are a couple of things that come into play. One of the things is that there is an architect who will be one of the neighbor's representatives on the committee, and he has brought some really interesting design concepts into play and has already presented — came up with his ideas and presented to the developers in some of the meetings leading up to the City Council vote. You know, Steve, I will tell you it is higher than the neighbors expected, wanted, were hoping for. It is mapped out right now to be a max height of 110 feet. What is proposing a particular planning tool that has been used on this is a planned unit development, which basically, in shorthand, is it’s like its own city, where you're defining all of the zoning rules. So hopefully we'll have significant input on that, on things like landscaping, about landscape setbacks, about building setbacks, and about building step backs, so that it's farther away from Seventh Street and Thomas. So step back away from the neighborhood with the least amount of input — impact, that is. I think the other big thing here is that, you know, neighbors, part of this — you know, you had a speaker yesterday which I really took issue with. He was covering a lot of things like, you know, he said, "Well you know, change is hard and this is emotional," and, you know, these are all tropes that are thrown up there that really I have a problem with. He talked about change yesterday but actually written into the general plan, which was approved by 76 percent of the voters in Phoenix, is the concept of stability. Neighbors deserve stability. Yesterday's speaker wasn't familiar with the project and so was giving the listeners information that was not necessarily correct. He was talking about things, you know, we need to focus on density and build up. This building was only proposed to have 200 people in it. This is not something that is going to address any of the problems here, and at 500 feet a square foot, it is not going to address the affordability issue that is facing Phoenix.

GOLDSTEIN: Now within six months, do you expect this to go to the six-month mark, or do you hope that people will jump in as soon as possible? We know how deadlines work. People tend to sort of wait till the last minute, not as far as negotiations go, but as far as really coming up with something that people try to agree on. Do you think this is going to go up to that wall?

HADDAD: Put it this way. I do know that there is a lot of work involved in putting together a PUD narrative. You're really spelling out every single aspect of the development, you know, from landscaping to setbacks, as I mentioned before, to also building materials and what things look like. So there's a lot of work involved. I think it can be done. I think they can reach their six month deadline. And I also think that the developer wants to get moving ahead because, as we've seen from interest rates, you know, they're going up as opposed to down. So I think everybody wants to move on this and has an interest in doing so.

GOLDSTEIN: Neal Haddad is with the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix. Neal, again, thanks for your time today.

HADDAD: Thank you, Steve.

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