Paradise Valley looks to bolster Hillside Development Ordinance

 A view of the April 28 community conversation at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

A view of the April 28 community conversation on possible changes to the enforcement of the municipality’s hillside development rules at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

The Town of Paradise Valley is taking a new look at old rules.

Paradise Valley Town Council Thursday, April 28 hosted a community conversation on the role the municipality’s hillside development regulations ought to play as issues of development arise from time to time. The public discussion was held at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.

“The issue of the hillside code and amendments to the hillside code is before our Planning Commission,” said Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins at the onset of the discussion. “Once the Planning Commission goes through that over the summer they will make their recommendation to the council likely this fall.”

The hours-long talk featured presentation and updates from each of the council’s development advisory groups — the Planning Commission, Board of Adjustment and Hillside Building Committee — and the Paradise Valley Community Development Director Eva Cutro.

Following the presentations, which included references to a few recent zoning cases, residents were offered the chance to voice concerns, opinions and suggestions on how specifically the Hillside Development Ordinance, and the processes that go along with it, could be improved.

A major catalyst for the community conversation appears to be a recent variance request atop Camelback Mountain where a resident had proposed a 10,000-square-foot home on about 3.44 acres with a slope of 52 percent, which the applicant said at the time created a need to build a driveway three times larger than allowed by established zoning rules.

Following community outcry the plans for the driveway have been scrapped, Paradise Valley officials say.
Town code states the Hillside Ordinance is meant to maintain the “valuable scenic resources” known as the Camelback, Mummy and Phoenix mountains.

According to town code, “these lands form, their foothills, and other areas over a 10 percent slope, offer a desirable setting visible to the entire metropolitan area and an intrinsic aesthetic value to the town; therefore they require unique standards resulting from the characteristics of hillside terrain.”

The issue at hand is how should the Hillside Building Committee and Board of Adjustment work in concert to better inform residents, applicants and elected leaders of development issues on critical pieces of land — some in preservation and some that are not.

The Paradise Valley Board of Adjustment is a seven-member body composed of residents appointed by Paradise Valley Town Council for four-year terms. The board hears appeals to zoning laws and can grant variances based on specific hardships.

The Paradise Valley Hillside Committee was created in 1996 and is governed by Article XXII of the town’s zoning ordinance whereas members are charged with reviewing applications for building permits in the Hillside Development Area. Membership on the Committee consists of three members of the Planning Commission and two citizens appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Town Council.

About 1,000 of the 6,800 single-family homes within the Town of Paradise Valley are considered hillside development properties, according to Ms. Cutro.

The picturesque landscape that is the Town of Paradise is something the hillside development regulations were created to protect. (File photo)

The picturesque landscape that is the Town of Paradise is something the hillside development regulations were created to protect, officials say. (File photo)

Hillside variance paranoia

Richard Chambliss, Paradise Valley Board of Adjustment chairman, along with Scott McPherson, a member of the Hillside Building Committee, gave town council an overview of their committees and scope of recent work.

“We have had a couple of applications before the board that have had considerable controversy and lots of public input,” he said at the April 28 community conversation. “While that is helpful for the board — a number of the communications we are receiving don’t have much to do with the variances.”

Mr. Chambliss points out while the concerns are very real and genuine, many of them are not within the purview of the Board of Adjustment.

“That’s a very considerable and genuine concern that has nothing to do with the Board of Adjustment,” he said of safety concerns that can accompany hillside development projects. “It is wasteful for residents to alert board members to their concerns. But I do not want to imply those concerns are not justified — they are justified — they just need to be directed to another place.”

Mr. Chambliss says due to the process oftentimes Board of Adjustment members have to go with information provided to them.

“We are the judge,” he said of the Board of Adjustment role in development cases the group hears. “We are going to go forward with whatever information is before us. I think we are sensitive to those issues that become controversial.”

Mr. Chambliss contends the majority of cases that come to the Board of Adjustment are relatively simple, which until now has precluded any disclosure rules from being developed.

“There is certainly no hard and fast rule that requires full disclosure,” he said pointing out it is very typical for applicants of variances to hire legal professionals to carry out the merits of the zoning case.

The issue of new information being presented either the day of a hearing or a few days earlier has become problematic, Mr. Chambliss says.

“That is not in the rules and regulation of how the Board of Adjustment has proceeded,” he explained of no formal disclosure deadlines with town code at the Board of Adjustment.

“You could make an argument to have that put in place for some protections, but 90 percent of the variance cases that come before us are pretty simple. Could we put in place some kind of rule, I guess we could, but it might just slow down the process.”

Mayor Collins says he wants community members to know their opinions matter.

“Council wants to make sure public involvement in the hillside process is improved and will work to improve the way the code is implemented and enforced,” he said in an April 29 interview.

“Last night was to educate interested residents so they can better participate in the pending code review process. And, to educate council on some of the challenges with the hillside code from both staff and resident perspectives.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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