Pace: Rare 3-3 council split over five-plex proposal on Camelback Mountain

Working late in to Valentine’s Day evening, when love was in the air, exposed a very divided Paradise Valley Town Council on an issue that implicates the core values of our Town.

Julie Pace

Three members of the Paradise Valley Town Council expressed support for commercial zoning of a five-plex on Camelback Mountain directly adjacent to one-acre single family homes.

Council Members Anna Thomasson, Mark Stanton and Paul Dembow support the increased development of a five-plex on Camelback Mountain, while Vice Mayor Scott Moore, Ellen Andeen and I opposed it. Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner is attempting to bridge the divide to develop a consensus.

The issue before the Paradise Valley Town Council is a proposal by Sanctuary Resort to change an existing single family home located in the Sanctuary rental pool on the western most edge of its property, immediately adjacent to a neighborhood of one-acre single family homes. The Resort wants to build a multi-story party house with a pool, roof top bar and four connected rental units on less than one acre on Camelback Mountain.

That high density use would ordinarily require commercial zoning.

A well-respected 60-year resident involved in the transformation of the former John Gardner Tennis Ranch into the Sanctuary Resort reminded the council of the promises made that the resort’s rental homes within the perimeter of the resort would remain single homes as a buffer between the high density resort and the surrounding neighborhoods. Yet three members of the council support allowing resort developments to break those promises to the town and the one house per acre neighborhood.

To place this high density perimeter expansion into recent context, the Town Council, with my support, recently already approved a major interior expansion for Sanctuary.

In 2017, the council approved the expansions the Sanctuary Resort through the addition of 45 more units within the interior of the resort. That approval did not allow the expansion of the Resort’s footprint towards the surrounding neighborhoods.

Before Sanctuary has even built the approved 45 additional in-fill units, and before the surrounding neighborhoods can assess the impact on noise from the higher density resort presence, three members of the council would support allowing the resort to expand party houses right out to the perimeter walls next to single-family, one-acre homes on the west side of the resort.

The impact of privacy, noise, and intensifying density and commercial uses intrudes into existing single family residences.

This issue is not limited to the area around the Sanctuary. Recently some council members, including Mark Stanton, supported three-story high density hotel units with balconies looming over the backyards of one-acre homes in the neighborhood of the proposed rebuild of the Smoke Tree property, which seeks to build 180 units on only 5 acres.

The Town Council works best when we can achieve a consensus, and I hope my colleagues and I can work through the very unusual 3-3 split on this issue. I am proud of the unanimous support for the changes to the Hillside Code that I advocated during the past two years to preserve Paradise Valley’s character. I am proud of standing up for open space, one house per acre construction, and no blasting of dynamite on the mountains.

My colleagues on the Council approach this issue from different perspectives.

Anna Thomasson is brand new. She ran on a platform of supporting residences and open space, but her vote on this pivotal Town Value issue shows she too has fallen to supporting development at all costs in our Town. I am optimistic that with experience she will return to support the values of our residential community that she espoused during her recent campaign. This may just be a rookie mistake.

Mark Stanton is in a unique predicament. He is employed by the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce. The resort development proposals that he supports in the PV Town Council chambers are proposed by his members, including Board members of his employer. I call out to Mark to support our Town values and support PV residents and keep his pro-resort and high density support of Scottsdale-type construction in Scottsdale.

Paul Dembow has libertarian tendencies that all of us know and respect. He expressed those views when he was running for re-election. His perspective is constructive to have on the Council and he has been consistent in his views.

I support healthy resorts. I do not support allowing resorts to break past promises and to create what could be analogous to mini-Scottsdale style entertainment districts within our low density residential neighborhoods. That is not consistent with the values of Paradise Valley.

I realize that calling attention to what is occurring within the Town government may ruffle some feathers. This issue is too important to fly under the radar of PV’s residents. I encourage residents to make their views known to Council members and town staff. I have advocated for reforms within the Town’s procedures that would give greater consideration to the views of residents when processing development proposals. We benefit from more civic involvement by residents.

We welcome, and need your views.

Please write or call members of Town Council, Planning Commission, and Hillside Committee along with the planning director for the town Jeremy Knapp before the Feb. 28 council meeting. Residents’ voices matter.

Editor’s Note: Julie Pace is a Paradise Valley Town Councilmember.

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