Visual corridors: Paradise Valley council hopefuls talk planning parameters

On Tuesday, Aug. 28, local voters will elect a new mayor and three people to Paradise Valley Town Council.

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

Paradise Valley Town Council candidates are:

  • Ellen Andeen — a Paradise Valley Police Department volunteer.
  • James Anton — a member of the Planning Commission.
  • Paul Dembow — an elected member of Paradise Valley Town Council seeking re-election.
  • Anna Thomasson — a member of the Board of Adjustment.

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 the second installment of an eight-part series focused on the issues that matter to local residents.

This week’s installment is focused on what the importance of the both the General Plan and new provisions meant to protect visually significant corridors of the community.

This is what candidates had to say:

Jerry Bien-Willner

Jerry Bien-Willner

•As a resident of Paradise Valley what weight do you give the municipality’s General Plan?

The General Plan remains an important document in that it provides a reference point for many of the planning and aspirational questions that our community may encounter. That said, it is not intended to act as a substitute for the informed judgment of the public’s representatives on the specific issues our community considers, nor do I believe it should serve to mute the voices of our residents or other stakeholders on those issues.

The Paradise Valley Planning Commission recently completed its recommendation to the governing body regarding a formalized plan for visually significant corridors. What do you make of this approach to handling both current development, beautification and contemplation of future development?

I am looking forward to hearing the recommendations of the Planning Commission and our professional staff, and public feedback on that work, in the fall.

• If elected, what would you like to see included in a formal visually significant corridor plan?

I am interested to hear from town staff and the Planning Commission, who have spent substantial time and effort reviewing this item, and members of our community. I am very sensitive to design, construction, and maintenance costs — in keeping with our traditions of fiscal accountability and limited government — questions of public safety related to the designs (so I specifically asked for police and public works input on these questions). I’d like to make sure that the opinions of those who may live closest to any proposed new designs or landscaping is given due consideration.

Aesthetic questions are generally “in the eye of the beholder,” but as for my own opinion, I generally enjoy our streetscapes. I’m a fan of the appearance of 56th Street between Lincoln and McDonald, but also recognize that the old adage that “you get what you pay for” holds true — so there is definitely a cost-benefit analysis involved in this area!

I wouldn’t support a “one size fits all” plan, or a plan that does not adequately account for the financial impacts of implementation weighed against other Town priorities.

Anna Thomasson

Anna Thomasson

•As a resident of Paradise Valley what weight do you give the municipality’s General Plan?

The town’s 2012 General Plan, required by Arizona law, was approved by voters in 2012. Additionally, more than 50 public meetings over the course of a year helped shape the development of the plan. It is the guiding document for our town.

Since Arizona statutes require the plan be updated every 10 years, council members elected this August will likely be involved in gathering input and shaping the revised plan. As your Councilmember, I will work tirelessly to gather resident input to shape a plan that is great for them and our town.

During my 30 years as a communications and change management consultant, I saw leadership teams that acted like they wanted input, but did not. Conversely, I saw high-performing organizations that started with customer/employee input and used that to shape organizational change. There is a big difference. If elected, I will make sure we follow the example of the 2012 General Plan and start with a resident-driven process to update our new plan.

•The Paradise Valley Planning Commission recently completed its recommendation to the governing body regarding a formalized plan for visually significant corridors. What do you make of this approach to handling both current development, beautification and contemplation of future development?

Since January, I’ve attended three Planning Commission meetings discussing the Visually Significant Corridors plan, sometimes as the only member of the public in attendance. As a fan of good design, I was initially enthusiastic about the plan since it was thoughtfully developed by consultants and staff and would make our town more attractive.

But I have a few concerns with the VSC Plan as approved by Planning Commission:

Unnecessary Spending:

  • The “Tortoises on Tatum” and “Lizards on Lincoln” pathways would be appropriate on a pedestrian-oriented street, but will not likely be used on our primary, high-traffic intersection.
  • The planned new entrance monuments are beautiful, but expensive. They should only be installed when the current stone and metal monuments are in disrepair and need replacing.

Overly Complex:

  • The designation of three different character zones: “Patterns of Nature,” “Resort Living” and “Rural Elegance” seems overly complex. Two designations: Resort Living and another would be sufficient.
    Insufficient Resident Involvement:
  • Although a public involvement plan was developed and citizen advisory committee formed, there did not appear to be a lot of feedback gathered from residents. From experience, I know it’s a lot of work to get the right volunteers and engage them at the right time. Our single-hauler trash discussion, taught us that genuine, timely resident input is critical. As a Councilmember, I would take a fresh look at our approach for actively engaging more residents, and others, earlier in the process.

The VSC Plan is directionally good, but expensive and overly complex — requiring more staff time, leading to bigger government. Less is more.

• If elected, what would you like to see included in a formal visually significant corridor plan?

The work already done by our consultants, staff and Planning Commission is excellent and provides a good foundation for further citizen review and discussion. As a councilmember, my duty is to represent the wishes of my neighbors and that’s what I will do.

  • I agree with the guidelines of creating a welcoming entrance and focusing on mountains and desert, and the landscaping plans and meandering sidewalks are beautiful.
  • The significant additions to the Lincoln and Tatum intersection of the “Pillars of the Community” and “Contemplation Corner” as well as the “Tortoises on Tatum” and “Lizards on Lincoln” deserve more citizen input. While they should be considered, I’m not sure they are right for our Town.
  • We need more public meetings involving residents, resort leaders, landscape architects, contractors, and landscapers, as well as Town maintenance staff and our police department. We also need a thoughtful, detailed implementation plan. Leading many corporate change management projects taught me that plans are good, but implementation drives success.

Let’s finalize the plan with resident input and make it easy to implement so it does not become another onerous compliance project, but rather a new chapter in making our town even better.

Paul Dembow

Paul Dembow

•As a resident of Paradise Valley what weight do you give the municipality’s General Plan?

I was on the committee that drafted the 2012 General Plan that passed with 80 percent of the votes. This said, looking at the 2012 General Plan as gospel is difficult, given the trash issue as an example.

The General Plan was used as the ‘reason’ the town should take away the residents ability to choose a their own trash hauling company. The suggested change was so upsetting to so many residents that is failed to get support from anywhere near a majority of the residents nor council.

I look at the General Plan as a working document, one that is interpreted through the lens of any issue that may come up. Bottom line, it’s being able to interpret the document in “real life.”

What do the residents want? In the words of Dwight Eisenhower, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” I use the document to plan but not as the reason to move forward with an issue that is not supported by our residents.

•The Paradise Valley Planning Commission recently completed its recommendation to the governing body regarding a formalized plan for visually significant corridors. What do you make of this approach to handling both current development, beautification and contemplation of future development?

I’ve not seen the completed document, heard from our residents on the document nor discussed it as a council. I’m a firm believer that: “All of us are smarter than one of us.” I would like to have a public process to ensure that the final document is the best one for the town.

I always ask for costs associated with different designs. Paradise Valley has limited resources and while we can come up with wonderful plans, we need to pay for them. We would also be asking developers to pay for our designed plan as new projects came up. This would lead to, perhaps, increased costs that may make a project not viable or causing unintended consequences.

• If elected, what would you like to see included in a formal visually significant corridor plan?

We also need a formal community outreach with each project that comes up so we allow the neighbors who are located in the effected area(s) to have a say in the ultimate design.

I look at the most recent project on Doubletree Ranch Road as a prime example of a project with no neighborhood input to the design of the road. The project is beautiful and I personally like the design; however, I’ve been contacted by neighbors who are losing a huge part of their front yard and are mighty unhappy.

I can’t support a project with no formal community input. While it may, at the end of the day go through and make some neighbors unhappy, we never worked though a public process to help in the design impact on the neighbors. We must have our community involved.

James Anton

James Anton

•As a resident of Paradise Valley what weight do you give the municipality’s General Plan?

Quite simply, I feel that the General Plan which was approved by the voters is the guide to governing our community. This document is an outstanding tool for our town government to review prior to taking on issues. It is imperative that while we have this wonderful document to guide us, we cannot abuse it to steer initiatives that are not in the best interest of our citizens.

•The Paradise Valley Planning Commission recently completed its recommendation to the governing body regarding a formalized plan for visually significant corridors. What do you make of this approach to handling both current development, beautification and contemplation of future development?

As a member of the Planning Commission, I have the advantage of working through the meetings with the town’s appointed consultants. The purpose of this document is to provide guidance — not requirements — for those making revisions to existing properties on both Lincoln and Tatum to enhance the beauty of our town’s landscaping. Currently, when those properties are redeveloped, we have minimal landscaping guidance to offer. Visually Significant Corridors addresses this need by providing a pathway to improved continuity.

Fortunately, what has been created is an incredible treasure chest that any citizen may use to enhance the beauty and landscaping of their property.

My favorite section, “Plant List”, is an outstanding guide to groundcover, shrubs and trees. The information includes color photos, dimensions, season of bloom and color as well as maintenance guidelines. All items listed are low-water use yet offer many beautiful choices. Speaking from my own experiences, the information provided in this document could have prevented many errors in my 33 years of landscape selections.

• If elected, what would you like to see included in a formal visually significant corridor plan?

Having worked on the development of Visually Significant Corridors I am proud of the work of the Planning Commission on this project. Additional things I would like to see which were proposed include input from the community, particularly on the Lincoln and Tatum intersection. Additionally, I would strive for citizen awareness of this wonderful document as one may assume that it only applies to our two main arteries.

Ellen Andeen

Ellen Andeen

•As a resident of Paradise Valley what weight do you give the municipality’s General Plan?

The General Plan is the “statement by the public of what they expect their Town to become.” I think that it is defined by its name. As with any specific issue, there needs to be a public process to define community support and the General Plan is used as a resource.

•The Paradise Valley Planning Commission recently completed its recommendation to the governing body regarding a formalized plan for visually significant corridors. What do you make of this approach to handling both current development, beautification and contemplation of future development?

I reviewed the April 2018 document from the Planning Commission posted on the town website. Besides a brief questionnaire to our residents in 2017, I don’t see that we’ve received enough input from the community. I would also be concerned with the current resources deployed and any additional resources that would be needed.

• If elected, what would you like to see included in a formal visually significant corridor plan?

I would need to hear more from our town residents before I would pursue anything further on this topic.

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

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