Paradise Valley Ritz-Carlton proposal now before decision-makers

The scene at Paradise Valley Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, Thursday, Nov. 5 as Town Council hosted a joint meeting with its planning commission to discuss the merits of ongoing Ritz-Carlton proposal. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

The scene at Paradise Valley Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, Thursday, Nov. 5 as Town Council hosted a joint meeting with its planning commission to discuss the merits of ongoing Ritz-Carlton proposal. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

The liquid state of the proposed Paradise Valley Ritz-Carlton resort community is starting to take its form.

Paradise Valley Town Council Thursday, Nov. 5 hosted a joint meeting with its Planning Commission to give residents a chance to speak on the development proposal and to hear members of the commission speak on their respective recommendation votes.

The commission voted 5-2 Oct. 20 to send the proposal to the town council. Commission members Thomas Campbell and Richard Mahrle were the dissenting votes.

Two members of the commission — Daran Wastchak and Scott Moore — now say they, too, would have opposed the proposal if at the time they would have known the developer was planning on adding 14 homes to Area B. That change occurred some time between the Oct. 20 commission vote and the Nov. 5 joint public meeting, records show.

While zoning and development minutia dominated conversation of the three-hour meeting, about 15 residents spoke out on the project — each offering some kind of positive notion the local governing body ought to “get this project to the finish line.”

Scottsdale-based Five Star Development is preparing a 105-acre swath of land an arrow’s shot from Scottsdale and Lincoln roads for a Ritz-Carlton project that includes six development-area characteristics:

  • Area A: 200-room resort on 18.1 acres
  • Area A1: 120 resort-branded villas
  • Area B: *80 single-family homes on 31.3 acres
  • Area C: 45 resort-branded, single-family homes on 22.5 acres
  • Area D: 74 townhomes on 8.8 acres
  • Area E: In-flux design as deannexation of 12.9 acres is yet to be determined

Town officials say the project will encompass 1,666,013 square feet with a lot coverage of 26.3 percent. The first plan was put to a public vote in November 2008 and Paradise Valley residents overwhelmingly approved the resort project by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

Paradise Valley Town Manager Kevin Burke prefaced the community conversation explaining community development projects such as the Ritz-Carlton proposal is a collision of ideas.

“The mayor and council have the role of making sure the public is involved,” he said at the Nov. 5 public meeting. “The idea is to make sure we have as much information out and input in as possible.”

Fluid state of development

Paradise Valley Community Development Director Eva Cutro provided an overview of the constant evolution the Ritz-Carlton proposal.

“While there were a number of changes, the commission decided to not send it back to the Town Council,” she said. “When the commission received the plan it was different then what the council had written its Statement of Direction.”

Known within Town Hall as an SOD, the official document dictates the scope of scrutiny members of the Planning Commission are to use when evaluating a proposed project. This SOD came with an amendment allowing the applicant and Planning Commission flexibility when evaluating the 25 percent lot coverage charge of all non-resort attached structures throughout the entire project.

“All of the work was done at the commission stage and it was different then what the council saw. What was recommended for approval to council has been adjusted slightly,” she said of the addition of 16 homes added to Area B of the proposal.

Paradise Valley Planning Commission Chairman Dolf Strom explains the commission scrutiny was expansive.

“We did a lot of work on this thing,” he told council. “We spent a lot of time on lots. At our last meeting, one of the last things we worked on was getting lot size down to 66 in Area B. That is what we voted on and approved a recommendation to you.”

Another point of clarification sought by members of Town Council included the “influx” nature of Area E, which could be developed jointly with the city of Scottsdale. Five Star representatives have not presented town leaders with a site plan for Area E.

“Council made comments about possible deannexation — a joint program with the city of Scottsdale. There seems to be a lot of variables there,” Chairman Strom added. “The applicant has postponed that until a later date.”

Both Mr. Campbell and Mr. Mahrle explained their dissenting votes at the commission level with or without 66 homes in Area B.

“I take the Statement of Direction very seriously and value it very much,” Mr. Campbell told the council. “There were two elements that did not conform to the Statement of Direction.”

Commissioner Campbell opposed the plan because of several factors that could impact the surrounding neighborhoods: the height and operations of the proposed lobby building roof deck, and lot design and size on Area B.

“I feel the most important function we provide as a commission and council is to mitigate the impacts to the neighbors,” he said of his dissenting vote.

“I think it is huge a impact to our neighbors to the north and to the west of Area B. I Support many elements of the plan but could not offer a recommendation vote without addressing those issues.”

Commissioner Mahrle wasn’t as gracious.

“We don’t have a clue what Area A1 is going to look like,” he said of his concerns of the development project.

“We have some very minimal stipulations. I think we will end up with a very dense, very tall condo project, which is what you rejected in your Statement of Direction. I could not approve a plan for A1 with the heights and densities while we really don’t know what the rooms are going to look like.”

Area B is not acceptable for the town, Commissioner Mahrle contends.

“If the product doesn’t fit, then do something different with the lot,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is trying to mislead you but if you look at the landscaping rendering the homes are 60 feet apart — but that is not what that is going to look like.”

A rendering of what the lobby building and venue may look like at the Paradise Valley Ritz-Carlton resort community. (Submitted graphic)

A rendering of what the lobby building and venue may look like at the Paradise Valley Ritz-Carlton resort community. (Submitted graphic)

Keeping an open mind

Members of Paradise Valley Town Council offered thanks to each of the member of commission for providing candid commentary on the Ritz-Carlton proposal.

“I am very encouraged,” said Councilwoman Maria Syms. “There are many areas they (the developer) listened to us about densities and heights.”

But while Councilwoman Syms offered positive comments on the direction of the Ritz proposal, she says she has concerns about the fluid nature of what will happen on Area E.

“It is very difficult to assess the project without this piece of the development,” she said.

Jason Morris of Whitey Morris PLC, who represents Five Star Development, says plans for Area E will rapidly materialize.

“We are hoping to be able to provide a portion of area E no later than next week,” he said noting that any plans would go through the same vetting process at the commission level.

Paradise Valley Councilwoman Mary Hamway says she is keeping an open mind on what the Ritz-Carlton will eventually become.

“This is exciting — once again we are here,” she said as the proposal is on the precipice of council vetting.  “I am always going to be concerned about drainage, parking and traffic. While we still don’t know what is going on with that parcel; (Area E) at least we are being honest about that. But I am willing to keep an open mind.”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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