Doubletree Ranch Road bewilderment prompts hazy CIP Committee pursuit

A view of the Paradise Valley Town Council during a study session at Town Hall where the local matters of the day are debated and discussed. (File photo)

The late-night discussion amongst Paradise Valley Town Council members over a proposed committee to handle resident communication and education for capital improvement projects shined a light on more issues than one.

Following their study session and regular business meeting on Thursday, Nov. 15, the Town Council reconvened to discuss the idea of a capital improvement projects committee suggested by Mayor Michael Collins earlier this fall.

The catalyst for the pursuit appears to be an attempt to quell the resident distress that broke out over a $3.3 million roadway project many say they weren’t aware of — including some members of Paradise Valley Town Council, they say.

While the members of council attempted to not make the discussion about the Doubletree project, and stay focused on the possible committee formation, the conversation kept coming back to what went wrong for that neighborhood.

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

In early September about 50 residents attended a meeting at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, to express concerns, consternation and confusion surrounding a proposed project to redefine Doubletree Ranch Road from Invergordon Drive to Scottsdale Road at a cost of $3.3 million.

At the September meeting all but two residents expressed concern over municipal communication about the project and why it’s being pursued in the first place.

The Doubletree Ranch Road project is a part of the town’s Capital Improvement Plan, which outlines the municipality’s plan for achieving the goals and objectives desired by the mayor and Town Council.

Generally, the CIP is a running five-year list, which is prioritized by Town Council and staff during their budget discussions. Paradise Valley Town Council are expected to render a final vote on the project and its construction contract in early December, officials say.

After Mayor Collins issued an Oct. 3 letter to Doubletree Ranch Road neighbors proposing the committee, he turned to his colleagues for their feedback. There was little to no consensus reached in the discussion.

Mayor Collins says the primary purpose of the group would be to improve resident engagement, education and participation early and often in capital improvement planning and design.

“What I personally saw in the Doubletree public engagement process is a lack of upfront engagement and education,” Mayor Collins said to council.

Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins

“From my perspective, there were kind of two parts to that — one part was identifying that list of long-range projects and participating in resident outreach with those affected. As I originally started to think this through was in response to a gap that we saw in the Doubletree process, but also a gap in general in major CIP projects so that residents aren’t surprised.”

Mr. Collins says the CIP committee would theoretically fill those gaps.

However, other councilmembers questioned how a group like this would operate effectively, when the CIP process as a whole may need to be re-evaluated.

“When it comes to CIP projects — we already have one — that committee is our staff,” Councilman Scott Moore said.

“Anything can get on there but what has to happen is you have to score it. The town manager and town engineer are in charge of that. If we need to work on — and I think we do — how things get scored and prioritized, then that’s something we need to work on.”

Mr. Moore says from his professional perspective, the way the town spends money on engineering contracts without conceptually knowing those projects will look doesn’t make sense.

“I would never do that, and I don’t,” he said.

“When did I get to see Doubletree? After it’s at 30 percent and after the money’s already spent. There’s no resident engagement involved in that. If it was something we were to work on our process, we’d have a much better process without ever putting a committee together.”

Scott Moore

Both Mr. Moore and councilman Paul Dembow said they didn’t know a community meeting was happening on the Doubletree project — and they’re the elected officials.

“Staff isn’t in contact with residents, and council isn’t informed — how will this committee be informed?” Mr. Moore asked. “I think our process itself needs a real clean-up.”

Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner, who has been elected to serve as mayor starting in January, said the Doubletree project shouldn’t be a case study for the CIP, as there have been many other projects that went along just fine.

He pointed to municipal employee turn over and musical chairs as a potential issue for this one specific project.

“I think we’ve dealt with more complicated projects that I think we know a lot more about — as council we had more unity and it didn’t become an issue,” he said.

“The public picks up when there’s a lack of consensus on council, when they’re approached by a lot of different ways, it creates anxiety. I know we can do better than what we’ve done, if there’s a look back or not on this project, we need to do better than what we’ve done collectively on this project.”

Mr. Bien-Willner said he doesn’t want to rush to judgment off the heels of one project that didn’t go right.

Mr. Dembow noted, agreeing with Mr. Moore, that how the CIP projects are ranked by town staff will always be the same — and won’t solve the issue some Doubletree residents have as to why this project was prioritized in the first place.

Town officials say the road has several years of life left in it.

“No CIP committee is going to change that unless we change our process,” Mr. Dembow said.

Mr. Collins responded saying that a properly put-together CIP committee would have communicated and educated the merits of Doubletree early in the process.

“So, the committee would communicate ‘the council is divided on this project and let’s talk about it,’?” Mr. Bien-Willner questioned.

Julie Pace

Councilwoman Julie Pace re-iterated that the consternation around Doubletree started with the council and it’s process.

“There was no timeline, it’s no wonder they all want something but they don’t know what,” she said.

Councilmembers discussed the need for policy discussions, such as their process for community outreach and future traffic changes, and the new councilmembers and new town hires that will soon be coming on board.

“Before we address a new committee, we address the entire process — and clearly, there’s room for improvement,” Mr. Dembow said. “I’m a visual guy, when you do 30 percent design, I’m thinking ‘why are we doing that?’”

Mayor Collins attempted to bring the conversation back to the committee, but it went awry when the topic of a Doubletree resident-created committee was brought up.

“Do we even want to have this conversation then? Because then we’re going to get into what actually happened in Doubletree, which I don’t think is a productive discussion to have,” Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner said.

Jerry Bien-Willner

“Because there was outreach in this project that didn’t come from staff. And, if we want to talk about that, let’s have that discussion, because that to me is part of what went wrong here.”

Councilmember Pace said she believes the town staff needs a facilitator to be communicating with the residents when a project may potentially affect their home, and touched on improving the municipal website.

“There’s two things — there’s funding the project and there’s finishing the design, there’s a lot of people jumping to, ‘Hey, let’s not fund the project because it’s not prioritized.’ I’m not, that’s not where my head is right now, my head is figuring out a way to finish this design.

Because I haven’t heard anybody, at least in public, say the design features that are presented are bad,” Mr. Collins said.

Mr. Bien-Willner says he has heard residents say they don’tlike the entry design, and they don’t want roundabouts.

“I’ve heard that — I mean are we talking about Doubletree or are we talking about the committee?” Mr. Bien-Willner asked.

“We agendized a standing CIP committee. If we’re going to have a Doubletree discussion about this stuff I’d like to have it in front of all the people who came to show up, and then we can talk about the engagement efforts on Doubletree and I’ll ask for a staff report on that. This is not how I want to have this discussion. I think we discussed it. I think there’s a consensus on a majority of people who aren’t that interested in it.”

The Town Council is expected to vote on the Doubletree project on Dec. 6.

“I may bring something in front of council to vote on,” Mayor Collins said, referring to the CIP committee proposition.

Mr. Dembow closed the meeting by stating, “that’s your prerogative.”

News Services 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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