Town Council doubles down on halting Paradise Valley Doubletree project

Town Council doubles down on halting Paradise Valley Doubletree project. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Improvements for Doubletree Ranch Road have been tabled.

Following impassioned commentary from residents, Paradise Valley Town Council members seem to side with those concerns admitting too many unknown factors to move forward with the project.

Safety, communication process and the overall goal to be achieved by reconstructing some areas of the road were among top reasons cited by council members not in support of the project.

On Thursday, Dec. 6, several residents who lived on or near the street in question voiced their desire or apprehension for the capital improvement project.

Additionally, a petition signed by 54 residents was provided to Town Council prior to the meeting, which supported the proposal to improve the road entryway at Scottsdale Road, and form a committee of residents to work with the municipality over the next 12 months.

The committed would be established to find additional ways to improve safety, fix drainage issues and help keep the road beautiful, petitioners contend.

Resident Bernie Barry is one of many speakers at the Dec. 6 Paradise Valley Town Council meeting who gave his opinion on the proposed roadway project. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Rosequist)

In early September about 50 residents attended a meeting at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, 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.

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.

Meetings also took place in November where members of Town Council and residents thought the issue had come to a close and were surprised to see Doubletree back on the agenda for December.

The Doubletree Ranch Road project is a part of the town’s CIP, 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 and staff during their budget discussions.

The Doubletree project appears to have identified some areas for improvement in the CIP process, and Capital Projects Administrator, Jason Harris, reportedly has some ideas for how to better the system, council members say.

Mr. Harris presented five options to council for the roadway:

  • Design with roundabout at Invergordon Road;
  • Design without roundabout at Invergordon Road;
  • Entry only (as presented at the Nov. 15 meeting);
  • Redesign with additional public input (potential resident task force); and
  • Table project (re-assess project priority with annual CIP update).

Mr. Harris noted that Doubletree Ranch Road sees 7,529 vehicles on a weekday, and 4,802 vehicles on weekends.

Mayor Michael Collins made a motion to support the petition and move forward with the entryway option, but it died for a lack of a second.

Ultimately, Councilwoman Julie Pace crafted a four-part motion that would:

  1. Table the item Doubletree Ranch Road project;
  2. Direct staff to work with the new town manager to work on updated CIP review process and reassess CIP projects;
  3. Include components of education outreach to residents affected by CIP projects; and
  4. Identify options to deter cut-through traffic to neighborhoods where applicable.

The motion passed 6-0, with councilmember David Sherf absent.

A strong no from Town Council

Prior to their vote, members of Town Council took time to explain how they see the issue after hearing from the residents.

Safety for pedestrians, slowing down speeding traffic, drainage and addressing motorists who use Doubletree Ranch Road to bypass main thoroughfares were among some of the top issues residents expressed.

Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner says the plan presented to council doesn’t acknowledge many of the resident concerns.

“I’ve heard a lot of questions and concerns about problems in the road that really aren’t addressed in this plan,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

“You know? You can use a Ferrari to haul around a trailer but that’s probably not the best use for it. This is a very expensive project that doesn’t hit a lot of the metrics that people have raised, which really concerns me. I’ll tell you I’ve heard consistently from folks: Safety, speed and traffic has been raised consistently.”

Traffic is getting worse Valley-wide, but there isn’t a solution at this time, Mr. Bien-Willner says.

“The reality is that’s going to be a constant battle, and if anyone up here says we have a silver bullet for that — we don’t,” he said. “Can we do things to try and help with it that also protects others town residents? Yes we can, and we should, but I don’t know that this plan was ever intended to address that.”

The future mayor, who takes his post in January, says the town residents are spot-on with the stop sign vs. roundabout issue.

Jerry Bien-Willner

“Roundabout vs. stop signs, that’s been a continual hot button issue across town. I’ve asked repeatedly, and I promise you that as mayor I’ll want this on the agenda, to have a report from staff on the relative pluses and minuses from a traffic safety perspective, from an engineering perspective. We may not agree, but at least we’ll have the information out there and why we have it in our plans or not,” Mr. Bien-Willner said, alluding to the 2012 General Plan which calls for roundabouts at minor thorough intersections.

Mr. Bien-Willner questioned why the entryway possibility would be an option if the ultimate goal is to revamp and re-do the road.

“We saw four options, those are suggestions from staff, but we listen to you,” he said.

Councilmember Paul Dembow followed Mr. Bien-Willner, holding up his laptop to show the residents how the CIP projects are ranked and scored.

“If we choose to spend money on something that is clearly only an aesthetic project, it does do other things, sure, but that road is in perfect condition,” Mr. Dembow said about Doubletree Ranch Road, which last received mill and overlay on the roadway in 2010.

“And we take that same $3.3 million, and we have to pay 7 percent on that money for the underfunded police pension. So it’s not just the extravagance of spending $3.3 million, we have to pay another quarter of a million dollars for the interest that we’re not paying off on our police pension, because we’re spending it on this. We have a lot of other projects that are critical — in fact there are dozens of other projects that are more prioritized than this.” Mr. Dembow named other projects, such as a staff phone system, a training facility for the police department and a $300,000 investment for a back-up generator for the police and public works departments, which he believes are more important than street beautification.

“What do I tell the resident, the lady who spoke earlier, whose road is crumbling in front of her house, hasn’t been re-done in 22 years?” Mr. Dembow asked.

Paul Dembow

“‘Nope, we’re going to do this aesthetic project over yours, it’s more important than your road.’”

Mr. Dembow says overall he’s against the lack of transparency that this project used.

“Now that stuff has hit the fan, the project is getting the light of day, and shows the need to use a transparent project that all the residents want, not just one or two people pushing,” he said.

“What I’ve heard so far is people want safety, some people want lower traffic counts, some people want to increase pass-through traffic with roundabouts, but very few. Some want medians, some want no medians, some want curved linear, some want straight, some don’t mind giving up some of their front yard, some really mind giving up some of their front yard, some want the entrance from Scottsdale Road to have a swoop, some don’t like it. No matter how you slice it, the project and process was not done the way it should have been.”

An echoed sentiment

Councilman Scott Moore echoed the others, saying there were times that as councilmembers they weren’t even notified this project was moving forward.

“It seems this has been rushed, a lot of us on the council — even when we were looking at the CIP process and we were looking at moving forward with a 30 percent plan — when that plan was brought forward, we weren’t even notified that it had gone out to the public and there was going to be a public hearing on it,” Mr. Moore said.

Scott Moore

“That would be the time that we would start the discussions on all the concerns everyone has brought up, even if we don’t have an agreement of what the design looks like. There’s a consensus here that everyone is worried about traffic volumes, traffic speeds and traffic safety. I’d personally ask for a traffic engineer to provide us reports and say ‘does this proposed design even address any of these?’ and we haven’t had those reports yet.”

Mr. Moore says the comments by residents about their family’s safety are validated.

“There haven’t been any studies done by engineers, that say what is brought forward in a rushed manner is even going to address that, it’s just spending money before we have any answers,” Mr. Moore said.

“To have this at a meeting tonight, for action, before we have even finished the process of work study, neighborhood involvement and community involvement on comments and questions, and staff involvement in providing us the answers is ridiculous. And so, I couldn’t support moving this project forward tonight.”

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

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