Arrested Development: Paradise Valley municipal scrutiny stunts Smoke Tree Resort rebirth

An artist’s rendering shows proposed plans for Smoke Tree Resort’s redevelopment. (Submitted graphic)

Paradise Valley Town Council reviewed Smoke Tree Resort’s major special use permit amendment for the first time since the project received a recommended denial by the Planning Commission.

A Thursday, March 28 Town Council study session included a 60-minute overview of the project.

Community Development Director Jeremy Knapp described the purpose of the meeting as bringing council up to speed on the project, as changes have been made since council first saw the project several months ago.

The meeting was held at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.

On March 5, the Planning Commission hosted a public hearing, followed by a vote on the project. The Commission voted 4-3 to recommend denial, with Commissioners Daran Wastchak, Thomas Campbell and Jonathan Wainwright dissenting.

Planning Commission held 10 meetings on the project prior to its denial vote.

Smoke Tree Resort was originally built in 1966 at 7101 E. Lincoln Drive, adjacent to the municipality’s border. Earlier this year, the legacy resort property changed hands for a reported $10 million, and new ownership is eying a new chapter for the boutique resort.

The original resort, which had been maintained in perpetuity, is now under the guise of Phoenix-based Geneva Holdings. The property is on approximately 5.3 acres, and plans call for a complete rebuild comprised of up to three-story buildings with both rental and residential units.

The project entails 120 traditional hotel guest room keys, 30 resort residential units, which includes 15 lock-off features available to rent.

Mr. Knapp says as the project worked its way through Planning Commission, it decreased the amount of lock-offs available.

Jeremy Knapp

“Since this went to Planning Commission and came back, 15 of the lock-off units have been removed,” Mr. Knapp said. “There’s still 120 rooms, still 30 resort residential units but now there’s 15 lock-offs which gets us to 165 doors. That is something that’s changed since it left your consideration at the SOD stage.”

Other uses of the resort property includes a resort pavilion for banquets and meetings, a pool, a fresh food market, pop-up retail and a micro-brewery.

Mr. Knapp says after 10 work study sessions, the Planning Commission was required to take action on the Smoke Tree Resort SUP amendment on March 5. Issues stated for denial included density, intensity of use, height and incomplete information.

“There are no major changes to the scope of the request from Planning Commission to tonight. There have been changes in terms of if there were stipulations the Planning Commission recommended the site plan or the elevations did get updated to meet those stipulations, but in terms of layout of the site — nothing major has changed,” Mr. Knapp said.

“That being said, things have changed since you saw it last, as I mentioned before, in terms of change in units; the south property line; there’s been other areas where change has been made to the third story in order to comply with the open space criteria.”

Changes include:

  • Height to top of mechanical screening lowered from 44 feet to 42 feet;
  • Parts of the third story roof removed; and
  • Changes to signage plan and internal signs removed/resized.

The maximum height allowed is 36 feet, but in certain areas for mechanical screening, height can be increased up to 42 feet for up to 35 percent of the room area, Mr. Knapp said.

Setbacks for the property are shown as 100 feet from the adjacent residential area to the west; a 49 foot setback from new right of way on the northern property line; a 20 foot-setback on the eastern property line; and a 20 foot setback to 24-foot tall buildings and 60-foot setback to 36-foot tall buildings on the southern property line.

Next steps for the project, according to Mr. Knapp are to receive an updated drainage report and water impact study, as well as responses to a traffic impact analysis and parking study; receive updated information per council’s request; subsequently schedule Town Council work sessions; and schedule a public hearing for a date to be determined.

A graphic shows the new layout proposed for Smoke Tree Resort. (Submitted graphic)

Question marks

Town Council members questioned specific aspects of the SUP major amendment request, while digesting the information.

Councilwoman Anna Thomasson said she was struggling with the lot coverage area, asking if the town has a definition for moderate use.

“I know the General Plan talks about moderate use density, do we have any definition of moderate use?” Ms. Thomasson asked town officials.

Mr. Knapp said the term is not defined in the General Plan.

Councilman Mark Stanton asked for clarification on the information reportedly being provided at a later date, while Councilwoman Julie Pace asked if there was a compelling reason for the additional height request.

Vice Mayor Scott Moore asked for clarification on how the setbacks and floor area coverage was calculated, as well as the 100-foot residential buffer.

SmokeTree Resort and Bungalows in its current form. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“On previous projects that come forward, when it comes to setbacks and floor-area coverage, they’re all calculated off the net, post-dedication for the site,” Mr. Knapp said in response to Mr. Moore’s questions.

Smoke Tree Resort’s proposal is calculated on the gross property size, the officials agreed. Additionally, the 100-foot set back buffer on the western property line, adjacent to the residential neighborhood, is where the property measures from today, Mr. Moore added.

“The 100-foot buffer is specifically identified in the (statement of direction), as it is shown on the site plan it complies with the SOD,” Mr. Knapp said, noting that the Special Use Permit guidelines stipulate the measurement is taken from the nearest residential property.

Mr. Knapp told council that the Planning Commission talked at great length about height, and the height along certain property lines.

“Some of the concerns from Planning Commission were just that the guidelines say 36 feet. On other properties we have allowed architectural elements over 36 feet, but the entire building above 36 feet for mechanical screening and architectural elements was a concern for some,” he said.

“That’s probably why most of the conversation was geared towards minimizing the amount of building above 36 feet, and trying to combine all the mechanical areas in as much as they could in order to address that. The overall height of the building seemed to be a discussion point.”

Members of the council touched on the residential component of the requested SUP, and Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner asked for a better understanding of what the applicant is proposing.

“I know I’ve been interested in that, and others on the council have been interested in that,” Mr. Bien-Willner said of the residential units on-site. “Whether it’s a product intended to be sold to raise equity for the project and then rented out as hotel rooms as we’ve seen in other properties, or used as a condo with full-time residents, or used in a rental pool — just understanding that better.”

Councilman Paul Dembow, toward the end of the conversation, asked for clarity on the council’s role in evaluating the project.

“I just wanted to make clear the purpose of going through this exercise is understanding what was turned down, and are we trying to get better guidance of what will be acceptable? What do we want at the end of this exercise?” Mr. Dembow asked.

Mr. Bien-Willner said typically there is a vote at the end of evaluating the project, and he’s trying to equip himself with information needed to make an informed decision.

“I’m really looking at the recommendation of staff, which is ‘what do you need to understand from us about the project at this phase, and where it’s at’ and get us all that information and have that dialogue. I think this is the first high-level decision,” he said.

“I think it’s certainly fair to the applicant and fair to our staff to put the question marks out there that we’d like looked in more detail going forward so we can make those informed decisions.”

News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be reached by e-mail at or follow her on Twitter at

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