Paradise Valley evaluates pending deliberation of SmokeTree application

SmokeTree Resort and Bungalow is undergoing municipal scrutiny in order to undergo a redevelopment. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey) 

For a few hours on Sept. 27, Paradise Valley Town Council discussed and evaluated a Statement of Direction to guide the planning of SmokeTree Resort and Bungalow’s revitalization.

Earlier this year, the legacy resort property at 7101 E. Lincoln Drive changed hands for a reported $10 million and new ownership is eying a new chapter for the boutique resort on the edge of paradise.

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

The resort calls one of the main gateways to Paradise Valley home, and officials say it’s making the wrong statement.

In May, SmokeTree resort began municipal deliberations with a special use permit, which requires Town Council to issue an SOD.

The applicant voluntarily put the SOD process on hold May 25. In September, the application was re-initiated.

The formal document — one that carries a majority vote of Town Council — guides the town’s Planning Commission, a volunteer committee appointed by council, as it works through the development applications.

The first presentation of the planning guideline was presented by Community Development Director Jeremy Knapp on Thursday, Sept. 27, at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.

Town Council voted to convene in executive session for about 25 minutes before starting their discussion. The conversation on SmokeTree’s 13-item draft statement of direction book-ended the Town Council’s business meeting, as they discussed the first half of the list prior to their regular council meeting, and picked the second half of the conversation afterwards.

The SmokeTree Resort and Bungalows dates back to 1960. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Each resort project is unique

The property owner’s request for redevelopment includes 150 traditional hotel guest room keys, 30 resort residential units, a restaurant and bar/lounge, and accessory uses such as a cafe, pop-up retail and a bakery.

Proposed building heights are no higher than three stories ascending to two different tiers; one is 36 feet, while the other 44 feet.

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

Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins says the General Plan calls for a revitalized SmokeTree resort property.

Within the draft SOD, Planning Commission is instructed to focus their review on visible, audible and operational effects the amendment might have on neighbors. In particular, the document outlines:

  • Use
  • Density
  • Lot coverage/floor area ratio
  • Height
  • Viewsheds
  • Setbacks
  • Impact to adjacent uses
  • Landscaping/buffering
  • Infrastructure improvements
  • Traffic, parking, access and circulation
  • Signage
  • Community spaces/public benefit
  • Context-appropriate design.

While picking apart the preferred nomenclature to be used within the SOD, Town Council examined each area thoroughly. Major topics of discussion for the council included the residential component included in SmokeTree’s application, how to define the wording “context appropriate” and ingress/egress to the resort and surrounding properties.

“Where there is a resort residential, historically we’ve had questions about how that fits into the program, and getting more details as far as FF&E — furniture, fixtures and equipment — how that precisely works,” Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner said.

“I think enabling the Planning Commission to get into some of those details so that’s ventilated for the council is a positive thing. It helps us understand what’s being proposed.”

Details such as how ownership of certain rooms might work is what Mr. Bien-Willner would like the commission to get information on, he explained, noting one question might be: will there be separate parking for residents?

Mr. Collins echoes a similar sentiment of how to evaluate traffic flow in relation to density, when the intended use is not finalized yet.

“I think that information is important particularly in the design phase, because depending on how the utilization and uses is programmed — how the space is programmed for occupancy — really dictates flow, layout,” Mr. Collins said.

“Before, when we had to look at the development and ensure that the product, or hope to ensure the product getting developed wasn’t a condo unit, but getting developed as a resort unit. Hotel product, not condo product. There are design items that would be a part of the Planning Commission’s review, that I think they would need to know the utilization and occupation proposal to properly provide that design review.”

Veteran Councilman David Sherf, who is a longtime hospitality professional, says there’s one tell-tail sign of a condo unit.

“It starts with closets,” he said. “If you have closets it’s generally not a resort room.”

At the end of the SOD discussion, the council circled back to the hotel-use discussion. Overall, the council agreed they were looking at the building envelop that evening.

When Mr. Collins brought up the question of for-sale units at SmokeTree resort, Councilwoman Julie Pace looked to the other councilmembers to provide insight on what has been done historically in other residential resort developments.

Julie Pace (file photo) 

“You tell me, elder statesmen,” she said. “How did you guys make that decision before and why did you allow it at these times and why not?”
Councilman Paul Dembow says Camelback Inn’s rooms are each individually owned, while Mountain Shadows Resort has individually owned property.

“It’s how they’re going to finance, get money in there, as long as it’s the same FF&E. Somebody will make an investment return on their income, and it gives them the dollars to do their investment,” he said. “It’s not a condo project.”

Mr. Sherf noted that the town council didn’t allow the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa — under its first ownership — to have resort residential rooms, and they asked for them in their application.

“Luxury development hotels — luxury, $750,000 a key — can only be built if there’s a residential component. Can only. There are no projects that have been built in the last 10 years without properties like that,” Mr. Sherf said, noting he didn’t consider SmokeTree to be a luxury resort.

Ultimately, it appears each project is its own item within the Town of Paradise Valley.

“Each council, each project, each has a special use permit that you get to decide what you want to do,” Mr. Dembow said.

Paradise Valley Town Council is expected to review the SOD for a second time on Oct. 25, after changes expressed have been included.

News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be reached by e-mail at mfittro@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MelissaFittro

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