Paradise Valley remains in pursuit of a more defined Hillside safety code

Paradise Valley Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner at a recent Paradise Valley Town Council meeting. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

After more than an hour of discussion on a proposed safety section to the hillside code, Paradise Valley Town Council ultimately decided to table the issue until a later date.

The conversation that took place earlier this month set out to aid in the protection of the hillside environment and help provide for the safety and welfare of the town, officials say.

However, not far into Town Manager Kevin Burke’s slide show did members of town council began asking various questions on items in the plan, procedures and objectives.

“The new process looks a lot like the old process, with some more notification requirements and then there’s a new step in the middle, which is associated with review and approval of the safety improvement and construction staging plans,” Mr. Burke explained at the onset of the discussion.

Hillside lots within the Town of Paradise Valley are those areas with a stop of 10 percent or greater, or designated as Hillside by Town Code.

According to town officials, the hillside update dates back to 2015, where it was re-emphasized and included in the 2016 Town Council Quality of Life Initiatives. As part of that effort, a community conversation was held in April 2016 where safety was a central theme.

Throughout 2017 the Planning Commission worked on a hillside code update, ultimately forwarding the draft to town council with a 5-1 approval.

On March 22 of this year, town council reviewed the draft hillside code at a work study session. During the review the council made requests to the safety section, including:

  • A clear background regarding the purpose of the safety section and the issues the town is trying to address;
  • A safety checklist and construction guidelines in the packet, and how the safety checklist and process will work on a sample property; and
  • Identify which hillside and safety requirements also apply to flat land or non-hillside properties.

Mr. Burke’s council presentation describes the intent of the safety section as reducing negative impacts of construction on neighbors and promoting public safety. The issue is that hillside properties are prone to natural hazards, Mr. Burke says.

Hillside lots are often popular pieces of real estate within the Town of Paradise Valley. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

More things change, more they stay the same

Councilmembers discussed construction staging plans, and when the appropriate time to notify residents and how long they have to respond when a development begins in their neighborhood.

One area of concern amongst council members was soliciting neighbor input on the safety plan. Councilman Paul Dembow noted that he is worried about how strongly people might think their words will carry within Town Hall.

Mayor Michael Collins described the process as lobbying the town engineer, who ultimately has the final say.

Councilman Paul Dembow (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“What will end up happening is it won’t be one neighbor, there will be 30 neighbors in there giving a long list of things, and the town engineer — unless he’s crazy — will listen to what they’re saying because he likes his job,” Councilman Paul Dembow said of notifying neighbors of a safety plan.

“And, then there will be a lot more costs for that.”

Councilman David Sherf said he thinks giving neighbors too much authority to stop a proposed residential plan could be counter-productive.

“I think we’re pandering to the neighbors,” Mr. Sherf said. “They’ve got the ability to voice concerns with the project — the neighbors can lay in on everything, it disturbs me.”

Mr. Dembow says he believes the town engineer, who is reviewing the plans, is the expert and should know what to look for.

“It would be like every time you’d gotten sick you Googled what your symptoms are, and you have 500 diseases — you’re going to be imaging the worse,” Mr. Dembow said. “Your doctor says ‘no, you’re fine, you’ll be OK in three days.’ What we’re doing is every one is going to be imaging the worse, and coming up to someone and giving them pressure.”

Mr. Dembow ultimately says he thinks it will be costly.

“I just wonder what the expectation of that is, saying ‘hey we want to hear your opinion on this,’” he said. “From a safety standpoint, have a professional do it.”

All voices need to be heard

Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner reminded the council the applicant also has an opportunity to voice their opinions in the process.

“The person who owns the lot and is building there is also a neighbor, I think that person can respond, it’s not a one-sided opportunity,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

“I think Dave and Paul were articulating this too — I’m all in favor of this check list, but the problem I foresee is if it’s too one sided or appears too one sided, then any engineer who doesn’t want to get screamed at every meeting, or doesn’t want to lose his (or her) job, is going to put everything on this list.”

Overall, Mr. Burke noted some of the items being discussed in the safety plan were already being done by town staff, this process was to codify the steps.

“The area I’m getting confused is, so, we’re going to have these potentially parallel tracks, safety improvement and plan review, and one getting head of the other builds confusion,” Mayor Collins said at the board table.

Mayor Michael Collins (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“If they have different citizen review periods that builds confusion. It would seem, that from my perspective, having more alignment in terms of deliverables, and understood timelines on neighbor comment and neighbor feedback… I’m not saying exactly what that frame work is, but some way to better understand that flow so they’re not just one-offing either safety or plans, depending on how they want to game it.”

Mr. Dembow asked town staff how many times in the past three years staff has missed something on a plan, that a neighbor points out to them.

Planner George Burton responded, ‘nothing’ before Councilwoman Julie Pace noted that wasn’t true — recalling a couple of cases in recent years.

Mayor Collins noted at the end of the 60-minute discussion that he is still preliminary on the plans, and advised town staff to think about the timelines more before their next meeting.

The town manager work group is expected to meet and review text consistent with the direction from the council’s meeting on concepts prior to the May 24 work session. Mayor and council were expected to submit text suggestions to staff by May 15.

The current outline for the hillside code update safety improvement ordinance includes a June 14 action item and call to the public.

News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be reached by e-mail at or follow her on Twitter at

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