Paradise Valley consternation swirls as outgoing mayor seeks CIP advisory committee, role

Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins in action at Town Hall. (File photo)

Following an overwhelming chagrin percolating around a beautification project meant to offer motorists a more pristine view of Doubletree Ranch Road, Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins is taking matters into his own hands.

On Thursday, Oct. 4 Mr. Collins issued a letter to residents along Doubletree Ranch Road within Paradise Valley town limits suggesting an idea to form a new town citizen-review committee focused on current, pending and down-the-road capital improvement projects.

The idea, Mr. Collins says, is to help better inform residents of capital improvement projects as they sprout from Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.

In early September about 50 residents attended a meeting at Town Hall 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.

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

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.

Resident issues with the reconstruction plans included replacing a four-way stop with a roundabout, and using millions of dollars to replace a street that has at least seven years left in its lifespan, town officials admit. Ultimately, safety amongst motorists, pedestrians and cyclists was mentioned numerous times as discussions of bike-lane width, motorist-lane width and roundabout workings ensued.

The overarching idea: create a meandering sidewalk in an effort to calm traffic and match the thoroughfare’s design heading east from Invergordon Road to Tatum Boulevard, town officials say.

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 during their budget discussions. Paradise Valley Town Council are expected to render a final vote on the project and its construction contract in November, officials say.

Pictured are members of Paradise Valley Town Council, Scott Moore, on left, and Mayor Michael Collins along with Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner. (File photo)

The catalyst for change?

Mr. Collins contends the CIP committee idea was born to better prioritize current and future capital projects while improving communication with residents who may be impacted by a proposed project.

“The idea of forming a capital projects committee to better prioritize and rank important capital projects in our community has been with me for some time. But it wasn’t until recently, during our meetings with affected east Doubletree Ranch Road residents did the importance of improving our public engagement process during capital project implementation finally crystallize,” he said.

“I am proud of our Town’s actions to improve resident engagement across other areas of government and my proposal for this new committee will only continue to build upon the philosophy of listening first to residents before taking actions that have the potential to affect their quality of life. This new committee and the improved resident engagement that it will bring will allow town staff and Town Council to make better, more informed decisions that incorporate resident feedback earlier in the long-range capital project planning process.”

But the proposal has Paradise Valley Councilman Paul Dembow scratching his head.

“The outgoing Mayor Michael Collins has proposed this committee — through the press only I might add — and was the champion and continues to be for the Doubletree Ranch Road project,” he said of his impression of the proposal. “How ironic he takes a project he made a mess of to use it for this purpose. I wonder if he wants to be on the committee that he is proposing?”

Veteran Paradise Valley Councilman Paul Dembow, at left, during a recent meeting at Town Hall. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Mr. Dembow is formally calling into question the pursuit of the citizen committee.

“There is no gap, unless you’re the mayor and think you can slide your pet project — Doubletree Ranch Road — through the process and did everything possible to keep the public and the council out of the planning process until the last possible moment,” he explained.

“It does not make sense to me to waste the taxpayer dollars by ripping out a road that is in perfect condition and would last another decade for a road that 48 of 50 residents that showed up for a public meeting were strongly against. I believe, the outgoing, Mayor Collins is a party of one who wanted the Doubletree Ranch Road project and that resulted in the communication gap.”

Mr. Dembow further outlines he is a homeowner adjacent to the proposed project and he didn’t receive any notifications regarding the project.

“There was no public process in the beginning before the design was already almost complete. The project is also a complete waste of funds,” he said. “Who thinks the Town of Paradise Valley has enough money to rip out a road that is in perfect shape when we have tons of others needs? Some residents would lose a significant portion of their front yard too. Wasting money and taking residents land when they don’t want the project to begin with?”

Mr. Dembow further explains Town Hall already has an outstanding citizen-review effort for capital projects.

“We already have an excellent citizen committee set up and in place it’s called the Planning Commission,” he pointed out. “I — and, I believe my fellow Council — fully supports them and the great work they do. Where does outgoing Mayor Collins live, and how does the Double Tree Ranch Road project benefit him? Start with that question before discussing the need for a new non-elected body with no accountability.”

A view of the Paradise Valley Public Works Building apart of the Paradise Valley Municipal Complex. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

An optimistic approach

Although Mr. Collins seems to express not yet informing his fellow elected leaders on the idea, he is hopeful they see value in the proposal.

“I’m optimistic the Town Council will see the value and benefit of the proposed committee and not be insecure or intimidated by opening the process up more for improved transparency in project ranking and prioritization and healthier resident engagement during subsequent project planning and design phases,” he said.

“I credit Vice Mayor, Mayor-elect Jerry Bien-Willner with providing me with the catalyst ‘aha’ moment during our recent discussions of potential capital improvements associated with the bike/walk master plan. Using an impartial, non-political resident body to screen and sort and make recommendations to staff and council on capital projects and serve as a listening body for residents during planning and design phases became a logical next step for improving our service to residents.”

Mr. Collins says his vision is for the citizen committee to be set in perpetuity.

“I am recommending this new capital projects committee be a standing committee that serves as advisory to staff and Town Council and provides an ongoing platform for resident engagement whenever the town identifies or pursues capital projects that may affect their neighborhood,” he said.

“Although the first and most obvious task at hand is to work with residents on the proposed east Doubletree Ranch Road improvements, currently proposed roadway projects planned for Lincoln Drive, Mockingbird Lane, and Indian Bend Road will all benefit from improved public engagement and participation.”

An improvement to community communications?

Both Mr. Collins and Paradise Valley Town Engineer Paul Mood agree the citizen committee can be a boon for community communications.

A street sign identifying Invergordon Road, which appears to be the dviding line between the right and wrong view of Doubletree Ranch Road in the Town of Paradise Valley. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“The committee will be made up of citizens that can help town staff identify capital project needs throughout the town whether it be projects related to street improvements, traffic, drainage,” Mr. Mood said.

“The committee will also help the town engage with citizens early in the capital project planning and budget stages to obtain feedback on proposed projects. This will help the committee and staff refine project scopes, estimates and prioritize projects that will ultimately be presented to the Town Council for their review and approval.”

But Mr. Collins says the committee could only be effective helmed by experienced public servants.

“The only way for a resident committee of this kind to work is to have members with a long history of service to the town, who understand the CIP process, understand funding limitations, understand that their role is advisory only, are able to make objective and rational recommendations, and are able to bring proven public engagement skills and an empathy for residents to the table,” he said.

Furthermore, Mr. Collins offers these folks to helm the initial effort:

  • Mr. Collins, himself;
  • Councilman David Sherf;
  • Former Councilwoman Mary Hamway;
  • Former Planning Commissioner Dolf Strom; and
  • Water Committee volunteer Bill Plummer.

Despite internal Town Hall grumblings, Mr. Collins says some support has been expressed for the new citizen review committee.

“Regardless of who the Town Council chooses to initialize this important new committee, I am confident that residents will see the value and appreciate the opportunity to be heard earlier and more often when it relates to current or future CIP projects in the Town that have the potential to affect their neighborhoods and quality of life,” he said.

“Since announcing my plan to make this recommendation to Town Council, I have received considerable positive public feedback from residents who agree that improvements are needed in this area of government service.”

Mr. Mood points out the committee will have a staff liaison with either himself or a capital projects administrator serving in the ancillary role.

“The CIP citizen committee will allow residents to learn about the overall Capital Improvement Program for the town, specific projects that may be of interest to them or allow residents to identify projects that the committee and staff may want to look into,” he said. “The feedback received from residents will be a valuable tool for the committee and staff when preparing the Five Year Capital Improvement Program for review and approval by the Town Council.”

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

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