Paradise Valley council candidates opine Ritz-Carlton project progress

Local voters in the Town of Paradise Valley on Tuesday, Aug. 28 will elect a new mayor and three people to town council.

Paradise Valley Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner, who is running unopposed, is seeking the top spot of the local governing board while four candidates are seeking one of three seats on Paradise Valley Town Council.

The town council candidates are:

  • Ellen Andeen
  • James Anton
  • Paul Dembow
  • Anna Thomasson

The Town of Paradise Valley does not hold district elections as the mayor is directly elected and the council hopefuls run at-large.
The Town of Paradise Valley Independent reached out to each candidate to offer its fourth installment of an eight-part series focused on the issues that matter to local residents.

This week’s installment is focused on the pending development of a Ritz-Carlton, Paradise Valley resort community and how they perceive the negotiated deal and the outcomes that deal could bring to fruition.

This is what candidates had to say:

Jerry Bien-Willner

Jerry Bien-Willner

•In January 2016, I reported the approval between Five Star Development and the Town of Paradise Valley regarding the potential creation of a Ritz-Carlton resort community. It was reported the resort would be open by late 2018. Are you concerned by the progress made at the site?

Yes, I am troubled by the lack of overall progress on the project.

•Do you believe the development agreement — and subsequent construction stipulations — is a good deal for the Town of Paradise Valley and its residents?

In short, I was concerned about and did not support the 2016 amendments to the project entitlements because I believed then — and continue to believe — the town could have arrived at a better deal with greater compatibility with our overall community standards. Prior to the 2016 amendments, the property developer had a very favorable and hard-fought set of entitlements for the project, which had also been overwhelmingly ratified by the public.

When the developer came back to the town in 2016 to request more housing density, height, and a substantial number of attached homes and condos, I was concerned that the proposed revisions — which we typically do not allow — would be less compatible with or beneficial to our town, and also signaled increasing economic pressure on the resort development component and the project overall.

The significant increase in density also raised concerns regarding added traffic congestion. To be clear, though, I harbor no bad feelings or any disrespect toward the property developer. On the contrary, it is the imperative of every business venture to deliver profit and it was certainly within their rights to try to adjust their prior deal toward that goal — which, to their credit, they were able to achieve.

It is the job of the town’s leaders, however, to prioritize the values and needs of the community, and push back on proposals that may not be optimal for our town whenever necessary, to arrive at the best deals for the town.

I do not think the 2016 development agreement and stipulations did enough to guarantee the prompt completion of a Ritz-Carlton resort – which very well may be why we are where we are now – and I was not willing to give up what the four members who voted for the project did in pursuit of the allure of another resort.

•As a member of the community how important is a successful Ritz-Carlton resort community development?

I hope for the successful and prompt completion of a Ritz-Carlton resort project and have worked with the property developer and will continue to do so toward that goal, as I believe the rest of the council is committed to doing.

The project is significant, and it has received and will continue to receive all the cooperation, attention, and support from the town that it merits. In the broader scheme, I strongly believe the town should not bank on any one development or project — whether the Ritz or anything else. The best way we can maintain our preeminent position as a community is having enough balance, activity and strength — including with regard to resort and other revenue — to be able to “hold our cards” when necessary, and never have to “fold.”

As mayor, I will always work hard to keep our town in a healthy and strong position.

Paul Dembow

Paul Dembow

•In January 2016, I reported the approval between Five Star Development and the Town of Paradise Valley regarding the potential creation of a Ritz-Carlton resort community. It was reported the resort would be open by late 2018. Are you concerned by the progress made at the site?

As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust but verify.”

The first Five Star project I fully supported and penned an editorial piece that was printed in the Independent. The first application was a ‘Ritz Carlton resort’ project. It ensured the resort would be built with density that was about half of the current approved plan. The current SUP and development agreement I did not support for many reasons.

The Ritz-Carlton hotel would not be built first and the incredible density. If the project is fully built out as approved, it would make the development more square footage then Scottsdale Fashion Square on fewer acres. A Ritz-Carlton resort would be a wonderful amenity for the town’s residents. Until the resort is built, we have a densely packed residential community with more retail coming on the Scottsdale side that does not have the amenities that a resort offers.

•Do you believe the development agreement — and subsequent construction stipulations — is a good deal for the Town of Paradise Valley and its residents?

I voted against the current version of the development agreement. The Town had a better deal, already approved, on the property! I don’t understand what anyone was thinking when the agreement was approved with a split 4-3 vote of council. The four members of council that approved the SUP and development agreement believed doubling the density without the Ritz-Carlton being constructed first was acceptable and having the fees the town receives sunset in 30 years on the property.

This makes no sense to me. The leverage the town has is limited, and hopefully the withholding of Certificates of Occupancy for the other areas — besides the Shea homes portion — of the development works to bring the Ritz Carlton resort to life soon!

•As a member of the community how important is a successful Ritz-Carlton resort community development?

It is critical that the Five Star project be a success! I’ll start calling it the ‘Ritz-Carlton’ project when we have a Ritz-Carlton resort. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that current plan is successful. It is my belief that we did not get as good of a deal for the town as what existed on the property, or certainly could have negotiated. However, it is my duty to ensure the town does everything in our power to make the deal we have work.

Mr. Ayoub has invested well over a decade of his time and tons of his money into the project. I thank Mr. Ayoub for his believing and investing in this project in our town. I respect him for negotiating such a great deal for himself.

James Anton

James Anton

•In January 2016, I reported the approval between Five Star Development and the Town of Paradise Valley regarding the potential creation of a Ritz-Carlton resort community. It was reported the resort would be open by late 2018. Are you concerned by the progress made at the site?

In the middle of our Arizona summer, when our town is normally very quiet, many are expressing concern over the lack of progress at the Ritz-Carlton site. This concern stems from several town council members I have spoken to as well as our neighbors in Scottsdale. Personally, I have viewed the site from the office buildings on Scottsdale Road and am very disappointed in the lack of equipment and activity.

•Do you believe the development agreement — and subsequent construction stipulations — is a good deal for the Town of Paradise Valley and its residents?

Provided the resort is completed as promised, this will be a good deal, perhaps not a great one, for our town. Unlike the original proposal that stipulated the resort be built before the housing, this agreement allows for housing to go in first with the resort to follow. My two biggest concerns surrounding this project are:

  1. Will homes be built and sold while certificates of occupancy are held up awaiting the completion of the resort?
  2. What happens if the Ritz-Carlton does not get built and a lesser product is proposed in it’s place?

•As a member of the community how important is a successful Ritz-Carlton resort community development?

As a member of the community I find this project to be extremely important, if not the most important project our town has faced. From the massive scale to the prime location, this project must deliver on the promises made. It is imperative that our current and future town council members remain focused and committed to see the Ritz-Carlton project delivered as promised.

Ellen Andeen

Ellen Andeen

•In January 2016, I reported the approval between Five Star Development and the Town of Paradise Valley regarding the potential creation of a Ritz-Carlton resort community. It was reported the resort would be open by late 2018. Are you concerned by the progress made at the site?

The Ritz-Carlton project is complex and includes both Paradise Valley and Scottsdale requiring communication and coordination. Delays are part of the construction process. It has been slower than anticipated, however, I am hopeful that the developer and stakeholders will start moving along with greater speed and results in the coming year. I am not surprised by the slower progress given the complexity of the project.

•Do you believe the development agreement — and subsequent construction stipulations — is a good deal for the Town of Paradise Valley and its residents?

I am not privy to all the details of the development agreement and subsequent construction stipulations as this was negotiated by the mayor, council and town staff years ago. I do believe they did the best they could considering the complexity and number of stakeholders involved. However, with my finance background, if any further details need to be negotiated or revised, I commit to our town residents that I will do my best to ensure a fair and realistic outcome for the town.

•As a member of the community how important is a successful Ritz-Carlton resort community development?

We have a solid and successful resort community and I am proud of our existing resorts. I support their success and believe they offer our community many benefits as well as helping our town avoid a property tax. It is a delicate balance between honoring our town’s values of low density housing and integrating and adding resorts. Adding the Ritz-Carlton to our community expands the brand appeal. With Experience Scottsdale’s marketing expertise, I am certain they will recruit quality conferences and visitors to the Ritz as they do for our many independent properties.

Anna Thomasson

Anna Thomasson

•In January 2016, I reported the approval between Five Star Development and the Town of Paradise Valley regarding the potential creation of a Ritz-Carlton resort community. It was reported the resort would be open by late 2018. Are you concerned by the progress made at the site?

After meeting with Five Star Development staff and visiting the site twice — in May and again in July — the delays only cause me slight concern.

This project is strategically important to the Ritz-Carlton. They have a strong interest in the successful project completion and execution of the Resort Hotel Contract. Section 2.3.2.6.2 of the Development Agreement specifies that Certificates of Occupancy (COE) cannot be issued for homes in two of the residential neighborhoods until 150 hotel rooms have been complete and received COEs.

Other provisions require substantial work to be done on the hotel, therefore providing Five Star great incentive to complete the hotel as soon as possible.

Do you believe the development agreement — and subsequent construction stipulations — is a good deal for the Town of Paradise Valley and its residents?

I support the council’s decision to execute the Jan. 14, 2016 development agreement for a number of reasons:

  • I don’t think it is productive to second-guess a decision made by an informed group of residents after many years of study.
  • There are numerous provisions to ensure compliance including financial penalties associated with nonperformance.
  • The project offers residents the opportunity to downsize to a smaller lot or home and remain in Paradise Valley.
  • After reviewing the Fiscal Impact Analysis, it is clear the project will provide a strong, welcome revenue stream for the town, allowing us to make capital improvements while assuring we will never need a property tax.
  • Finally, a luxury resort will attract visitors to our town to experience the lifestyle we love. They may choose to become residents, increasing demand for our real estate and continuing to increase our property values.

•As a member of the community how important is a successful Ritz-Carlton resort community development?

Like many of you, for decades, I drove past those 100-plus acres of creosote bushes, rolling down my car windows after a rain to drink in that fabulous fragrance. Although I hated to see them go, the property owner deserved to sell the land and build a viable project compliant with approved zoning. These 105 acres at Scottsdale and Lincoln are an important gateway to our town. Now that we have signed the agreement and project has begun, it is important that the project be successful. This resort community development must be well-executed and enhance our cherished lifestyle.

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

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