Legacy value arguments shape Town of Paradise Valley development

MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT: The Town of Paradise Valley continues to grapple with legacy beliefs shaping current and future commercial development sprouting atop SUP properties within municipal bounds. (File photos)

The Town of Paradise Valley is special.

The landlocked municipality is unique as it borders major metropolitan areas — the City of Phoenix and the City of Scottsdale — but since its 1961 incorporation the town has remained a beloved residential relic of 20th Century American suburbia.

Situated amongst both historical and natural landmarks, Town of Paradise Valley resort development, since the days of The Wallace and Ladmo Show dominating early morning airwaves across the Valley of the Sun, the forefathers of the community created a vacation destination away from the limelight of other monikers — and, some say, relished the idea most outsiders considered the area, “Scottsdale.”

But as commercial development expanded and as the inevitable progress of gentrification unfolded, the land where the Town of Paradise Valley stands began to realize significant gains in both value and prominence ushering in a new dynamic to the affluent suburb: Status.

With great status comes great opportunity and with each swing of the economic pendulum defining good times and bad, Paradise Valley leaders continue to weigh the cost and benefit of commercial opportunities against perceived attacks on the character of the community.

“As mayor and a committed citizen of our town, it is critically important to me to protect the special character, unique and safe lifestyle, and the high property values that we enjoy because our town chose long ago to be different,” said Paradise Valley Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner offering his perspective on what developer dreams may create.

— Jerry Bien-Willner, mayor of the Town of Paradise Valley

“Our town is attractive to developers because of these traits, and it is therefore important that we not sacrifice the town’s identity because of pressure from those with their own financial interest to change what we have by trying to get themselves more bang for the buck.”

Mayor Bien-Willner worries the character of the community is under constant commercial pressures.

“We live in the fastest growing county in the U.S., and we are geographically in the middle of the metro area, and are in the most sought-after place to live with the highest property values and best reputation,” he said. “Our town is special, and I’m proud to fight for all of us to keep it that way. It’s also important that we stick to our limited government model, which includes not imposing a property tax in order to fund the town’s operations.”

JBW: Mr. Bien-Willner is serving his first term as mayor of the municipality but has called Paradise Valley home for the majority of his life. (File photo)

The playing field

In Paradise Valley, zoning is relatively simple with the large majority of the 16 square miles containing single-family residences whereas SUP guidelines govern commercial operations — places like resorts and medical facilities — within town limits.

Records show approximately 38 active SUP properties within town limits.
Paradise Valley Community Development Director Jeremy Knapp recently confirmed to the Independent there are eight SUP applications at various stages of development at Town Hall.

Those efforts, Mr. Knapp says, include major resort development and re-development efforts along with commercial facilities coupled with housing efforts and the reconstruction of Cherokee Elementary School.

A view of an entryway into the Town of Paradise Valley. (File photo)

Scottsdale-based Five Star Development, which prominent developer Jerry Ayoub founded, is bringing the Paradise Valley Ritz-Carlton development proposal forward, which remains the talking point for the community’s elected.

“In 2015, I did not vote for the deal passed by a 4-3 margin on that Town Council, principally because I was concerned that the proposal had too much density — particularly the 91 stacked condos and dozens of townhomes that were permitted in a relatively small area — and because other terms of the agreement strayed from many of our traditional town standards,” Mayor Bien-Willner explained of the community character argument at play.

“Since the deal was approved, however, I and all others at the town have worked in good faith to keep the town’s commitments under the agreement, and have looked for ways to support the prompt and successful completion of the project in ways consistent with the terms of the development agreement.”

But those good-faith efforts have brought a renewed interest for SUP development within town limits, Mr. Bien-Willner contends.

“Since the Five Star project was approved, we have continued to see pressure for high-density housing and other development within the town that would stray from our traditional, tight zoning requirements,” he said of the changing dynamic.

A view of a model outlining how the Paradise Valley Ritz-Carlton will ultimately be developed. (File photo)

The Ritz-Carlton development — a more than 100-acre luxury development effort — is beginning to sprout both its commercial and residential footprint. The development entitlements granted to Five Star Development for the creation of the behemoth resort community are broken into seven development-area characteristics.

“The development project I get asked about most often, and draws the most attention because of its size and state of completion, is the Five Star Development parcel and its promised Ritz-Carlton resort,” said Mr. Bien-Willner. “That project has been under development since 2015, with the developer controlling its own schedule for the ‘on-site’ construction with the zoning it asked for and got, including the resort and variety of housing and shopping areas.”

Aside from the Five Star Development project, the Town of Paradise Valley faces various other development projects. In 2018, the legacy Smoke Tree Resort property, 7101 E. Lincoln Drive, changed hands for a reported $10 million and new ownership is eying a new chapter for the boutique resort.

The original resort, which was established in 1966 and maintained in perpetuity, is under the guise of a partnership between Phoenix-based Geneva Holdings and Scottsdale-based Ventana Hotels and Resorts.

Furthermore, a handful of development projects happening within an arrow’s shot of each other — and the municipal border of Scottsdale — in the area coined by local officials as the “South Lincoln Development Area.”

The area itself includes Lincoln Medical Plaza and Smoke Tree Resort. Also included in the area are properties that are within the city of Scottsdale — AJs Fine Foods and Scottsdale Lincoln apartments.

The intersection of Scottsdale Road and Lincoln Drive could become one of the most prominent in the Valley of the Sun as luxury development projects begin to take shape nearby. (File Photo)

Underlying tones shape local politics

Paradise Valley Vice Mayor Scott Moore, a land development expert himself, contends so much interest in Paradise Valley SUP properties is bringing real issues to the forefront.

“When considering that all of these projects are happening at relatively the same time, it is imperative that we as elected officials legislate proper stipulations that address public safety, congestion, traffic circulation, densities, heights, and flooding or drainage concerns, while at the same time always taking into consideration the concerns of our residents and SUP property owners,” he said of his personal view.

SECOND IN COMMAND: Paradise Valley Vice Mayor Scott Moore during a recent public hearing at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive. (File photo)

“It is a big task for us and the town, and while many residents have already been actively involved, I encourage all of our residents to get involved and reach out to staff, Mayor Bien-Willner, myself or my fellow Council Member with any questions or concerns.”

Paradise Valley Councilman Mark Stanton says he remains committed to public safety, maintaining a high-quality of life and responsible development.

“I believe the top development priority is managing the special use permits that are being proposed or that are working their way through the evaluation process. More specifically, the resorts and medical offices that are being proposed, built or remodeled in the town.”

Councilman Stanton, who also serves as Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, seeks to build consensus for solutions as each development project presents its own unique challenges.

“Managing these SUP development projects is inclusive of the Planning Commission, staff, town council and public input,” he said. “This process includes evaluation of SUP development impact on the town including proposed density, traffic, drainage and other factors. Ultimately, we are working to support high quality, responsible development that adheres to our values and enhances our town.”

— Mark Stanton, Paradise Valley councilman

Mr. Stanton, a TPV native, says it is an honor to serve atop Town Council with his fellow community advocates.

“I was raised in Paradise Valley and my wife and I are raising our children in the town,” he said.

“As an elected leader, it is an honor to serve with my colleagues on Town Council with an important responsibility to represent our residents and work to make sound policy decisions that will protect our town and provide important services and public safety of our residents and guests.”

The nuances of development

The focused debates on the nuances of development provisions, Mr. Moore contends, is a salute to the efforts of those who came before him.

“To sum it up it is an honor to serve as your current vice mayor,” he said.

“As a fellow resident, I want to be of service to the Town of Paradise Valley and give back to the place I call home. I have great respect for our former community leaders and residents who blazed the path onto which in my humble opinion has made Paradise Valley the greatest place in Arizona to live.”

Councilman Stanton, too, echoes a sentiment of community and municipal pride.

“The Town of Paradise Valley is well-positioned for the 21st Century,” he said. “Our staff, community volunteers and elected leaders work to protect our quality of life, assure fiscal stability and look for innovation, efficiencies and best practices that will benefit our town and our residents now and in the future.”

Paradise Valley Councilman Mark Stanton (File photo)

Weighing those community sentiments with sound financial decisions, however, is sometimes an effort perceived to create winners and losers, Mr. Stanton said.

“SUP properties generate millions of dollars for our town, which offset property taxes in the town,” he said of the balance. “They are important stakeholders that invest in our town.”

Mr. Dembow agrees.

“I fight to keep Paradise Valley the wonderful community that enticed me to build my home and raise my family with my five children in it,” he said.

“I don’t want to see dense, and while I love Scottsdale, I need to say: ‘We don’t want to be Scottsdale part two’. I answer to my community residents, not developers who want density that is not in-step with what our history and founders worked so hard to achieve. I don’t want to fix something that is not broken.”

— Paul Dembow, Paradise Valley councilman

Furthermore, Mr. Dembow explains there is only one business in town — and business is good.

“The Town of Paradise Valley only has resorts,” he said.

“We have to be accommodating to the only industry our town has available for a revenue source. We are an affluent vacation destination by definition. The day that John Willard Marriott brought his family to Jack Stewart’s Camelback Inn for his family’s Easter vacation in the 30s our future was sealed as an affluent vacation destination.”

Councilman Paul Dembow at Paradise Valley Town Hall. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

What’s at stake?

Mr. Moore says as with all things: The Town of Paradise Valley is in more of a perpetual state of change than one might imagine.

“I believe our town is evolving all the time for many reasons and we as local legislators are here to protect our unique town values through this evolution,” he said.

“The state is always looking to pass bills that oftentimes affect our town revenue and polices. We’re constantly at risk with town revenue based on state-sponsored bills. As an example, with the recent changes to the Arizona tax code regarding construction sales tax, the state’s tax code changes resulted in over a $1 million loss in annual General Fund revenue for the town.”

— Scott Moore, Paradise Valley vice mayor

But with no property tax, Mr. Moore points out, state-shared revenues play a significant role.

“Our town is unique in the sense we do not have a property tax,” he said.

“As your vice mayor and council member I will always oppose any local property tax, but this makes us more vulnerable to these types of bills. It is important that we as local legislators continue to have a strong voice with our governor, district and state legislators in how these proposed state bills affect us as a town and effect our town’s revenue.”

Mr. Moore agrees the Town of Paradise Valley is already a world-class vacation destination, but to the extent it exists today could be its peak.

“Although our town offers world-class amenities, our town’s values are not to be compromised,” he said. “I will always support our small Town atmosphere and continue to maintain responsible growth throughout, including our hillside developments, to ensure we preserve the unique residential character of our community.”

Mr. Stanton contends the character of the community has spurred its vacation destination status.

The picturesque Paradise Valley landscape where land values are nearly three times more valuable than anywhere else in the Phoenix metropolitan area. (File photo)

“Our town is home to some of the most luxurious and exclusive resorts in the country,” he said.

“Those resorts are very important stakeholders for our town and our economic stability. They also serve as important assets for our residents as gathering destinations for friends and family. In great part, our resorts are benefactors of the remarkable work done to attract global visitors by Experience Scottsdale, the destination marketing organization that promotes tourism in both Paradise Valley and Scottsdale.”

Strong leadership has garnered citizen support at Paradise Valley Town Hall, Mr. Bien-Willner contends.

“I hope that the town will continue to enjoy strong leadership and continued citizen support to resist any temptation or threat to ‘evolve’ in a way that suits the desires and needs of others, but not our citizens,” he explained.

“In short, I hope our evolution will be one of protecting and refining what we all love about our town, not fundamentally changing it.”

Mr. Bien-Willner also considers the dynamic of SUP properties within municipal bounds.

“Our resorts and SUP properties are important to our town, in that the town’s resorts provide revenue to the town, wonderful and hospitable gathering places for our citizens and visitors, and enhance the fabric of our community — this also includes our many amazing faith communities and houses of worship,” he said. “As our resort community seeks to improve properties to meet their customers’ expectations and demands, I hope that our Town continues to work with these stakeholders to encourage and facilitate responsible redevelopment that is a “‘win-win.’”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment