Density concerns fan flames of worry at SmokeTree Resort rebirth endeavor

An artist’s rendering shows how the proposed SmokeTree Resort redevelopment could shape the Town of Paradise Valley entrance on Lincoln Drive. (submitted graphic)

The SmokeTree Resort major special use permit amendment may need more time in its planning stages, officials within the Town of Paradise Valley say, as residents are simultaneously beginning to voice concern over the intensity of proposed plans.

At a Jan. 9 Paradise Valley Planning Commission meeting, an agenda set to discuss the SmokeTree Resort SUP was tabled while town staff expected the applicants to submit additional information.

Community Development Director Jeremy Knapp noted the group had reviewed SmokeTree Resort three times at that point, and the applicant’s update was to be in reaction to comments made by commission and staff.

Applicant Taylor Robinson says they did submit those additional materials on Jan. 10.

Paradise Valley Town Hall is at 6401 E. Lincoln Blvd. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

While the Planning Commission didn’t discuss much about the resort redevelopment, two community members were granted the opportunity to voice their concerns on the proposed SUP amendment.

The Statement of Direction — a formal document issued by Paradise Valley Town Council guiding the Planning Commission on its deliberations — calls for a public hearing on the redevelopment by Feb. 5; however, Mr. Knapp explained that if the Commission feels it needs more time before the hearing and a subsequent vote recommending the project’s approval, the council will need to vote on that matter soon.

SmokeTree 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 5.4 acres, and plans call for a complete rebuild comprised of up-to three story buildings with both rental and residential units.
SmokeTree’s application at this time includes:

  • 150 traditional hotel guest room keys
  • 30 resort residential units featuring a lock-off feature
  • Restaurant and bar/lounge
  • Accessory uses such as a fresh food market, coffee shop and pop-up retail
  • Indoor/outdoor event space.

The Planning Commission is set to discuss the SmokeTree Resort at its Jan. 22 meeting, and it could decide then that the SOD doesn’t need an extension, Mr. Knapp said. If an SOD extension is granted, there is no set time limit, it’s up to whatever the staff and Planning Commission ask for, he said.

Additionally, other redevelopment projects neighboring the SmokeTree Resort — Lincoln Medical Plaza and the Ritz-Carlton Paradise Valley Resort — have created questions regarding how road improvements to Lincoln Drive and subsequent driveways to these properties will be developed.

Mr. Knapp said there’s a lot of pieces at play.

“The ingress and egress still has not been nailed down,” Town Engineer Paul Mood said.

“I will be giving a presentation at the Jan. 24 Council work study to go over the median access. It is currently still staff’s recommendation that the SmokeTree and Lincoln Medical share a joint access driveway. So hopefully after the 24th we’ll get more direction.”

Planning Commission Chairman Daran Wastchak said he isn’t comfortable “kicking that can down the road” any further.

“There’s no reason why that can’t be worked out before this moves on past us,” he said. “I don’t want to move this on to council unless this issue has been worked out. It impacts what we approve. I think it’s critically important that we do that.”

In December, options were presented to Town Council addressing possible solutions for the local businesses’ ingress and egress. No decision was made at the time.

Ultimately, the problem lies with limiting motorists from turning left out of the properties along Lincoln Drive to the south; and if so, where and how could drivers turn around to head west?

According to an existing traffic study from 2015, there are 13,870 vehicles per day along Lincoln Drive, which is estimated to rise to 20,000 vehicles per day in 2025.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed layout for SmokeTree Resort. (submitted graphic)

An intense project

Two town residents spoke to the Planning Commission on Jan. 9. The first was former Planning Commission member and former Town Council member Jini Simpson.

“My concern is this, when we did the project directly across the street, and now we’re doing the south side of Lincoln, we talked at great length about the entrance to the town,” Ms. Simpson said.

“We asked them to dedicate an additional 25 feet of land so that along the entire Lincoln so they have a setback of, I believe, 65 feet. This is our main entrance. If we’re not asking for the same kind of setback on the south side you’re saying the entrance is only on the north side.”

Ms. Simpson explained she’s hearing applicants say their land area isn’t as large on the north side of Lincoln, and therefore they can’t provide the same setback.

“All I always said when I was on council and Planning Commission, is it’s an open playing field, everyone should be treated equal,” she said. “You can’t do that exactly the same, but you’ve got to be looking at this and saying every applicant should be treated equal.”

Next, Gary Stougaard, who has ownership stock in the Andaaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows, voiced his concerns over the SmokeTree project. Mr. Stougaard also sent a letter outlining some problem areas to the Commission on Dec. 18.

“I’ve been through this process not too long ago as most of you are familiar,” he said. “Pretty much on my property it was your way or the highway. I knew what I bought and I developed within those parameters.”

Mr. Stougaard explained that he has 80-foot setbacks all along his property, and there was a lot of hefty discussions regarding height restrictions and density.

“For a better part of a year we talked about how many square feet can I actually build — we were horse-trading square footage to stay within the bounds of the rules,” he said. “I would have loved to build something that was a little more intense on my 24 acres, but it was clear, from all of our discussion, that wasn’t going to be possible.”

The Andaaz property embodies a setting of “away from it all in the middle of nothing,” he explained, saying that when you’re in the middle of the property you can’t hear Scottsdale Road traffic.

“The issues I brought up in my note to you all are really the biggest issues I have — that is setbacks are too narrow or too short. They want to do 20 feet from my property, 30-feet tall,” he said. “If you want to put a 30-foot wall, with a 45-foot center, 20 feet from my property, I’ve got a problem with it and I’ll be very vocal about it because I played by the rules throughout the process.”

Mr. Stougaard noted the SmokeTree Resort calls for 180 rooms on 5.6 acres; while he says his property has 185 rooms on 24.5 acres.

“The bottom line to all of that is I look at what they’re doing is so ridiculously intense that I can’t for a moment support it,” he said. “I just look at the whole thing and think, ‘yeah I’d love to have taken 5 acres of my property and developed it this intensely.’ Instead, I own 26 acres with 185 guest rooms and a lot of open space, which I thought this was all about.”

The applicant for SmokeTree Resort, Taylor Robinson, wasn’t present at the Jan. 9 meeting, but responded to questions from the Independent on the matter.

“The Smoke Tree Resort is ideally located alongside a major arterial roadway, bordered by special use permit properties with commercial uses on three sides, in a development area, and adjacent to Scottsdale,” he said.

“It serves as one of the few existing resorts in the Town of Paradise Valley, which provides annual, recurring revenue streams that enable residents to not have a traditional property tax.”

Mr. Robinson says the minimum threshold of luxury resort rooms and community amenities are needed to sustain resort operations in this unique site. Residents of Paradise Valley are encouraged to contact the applicants with any input and they encourage further conversations to create a resort that meets the spirit of the General Plan, he said.

Mr. Robinson also said they submitted updated materials to town staff on Jan. 10.

“We look forward to discussing in upcoming Planning and Zoning Commission meetings and additional annual meetings to engage public input,” he said.

News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be reached by e-mail at mrosequist@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Mrosequist_

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