Scottsdale Council candidates debate building height, traffic

By Curtis Riggs | July 23, 2008

Photo caption: Scottsdale mayoral and city council candidates squared off in a Coalition of Pinnacle Peak (COPP) candidate forum last week.
Photo by Curtis Riggs

All oppose north Scottsdale increases
SCOTTSDALE – City Council and Mayoral hopefuls squared off on building heights, transportation, code enforcement and a host of other topics last week in front of a crowd of 150 at a Coalition of Pinnacle Peak (COPP) candidate forum.

Three candidates for mayor and eight candidates vying for three open council seats will be opposing one another in a Sept. 2 primary and possibly the Nov. 4 general election. The election dates are significant because this is the first year municipal elections will be held in the fall because of a change in state law. Municipal elections have traditionally been held in the spring.

First-term Councilman Jim Lane will be seeking to unseat two-term mayor Mary Manross in the race for mayor as will write-in candidate John Washington.

The terms of council incumbents Betty Drake and Ron McCullagh are up this year. Lane’s council seat is also open because he is opposing Manross.

Scottsdale attorney Lisa Borowsky, Joel Bramoweth, Oren Davis, Tom Giller, business owner Suzanne Klapp and activist Nan Nesvig are looking to unseat Drake or McCullagh and to fill Lane’s open council seat. Davis did not attend the forum.

The candidates were asked about building heights/ and keeping north Scottsdale rural, the much maligned transportation plan and specific area plans for downtown, the Scottsdale Airpark, north Scottsdale, the need for a noise ordinance, code enforcement (which included a discussion about Henry Becker’s signs) and why the city did not bid to purchase State Trust Land near the Pinnacle Peak Trailhead of the city’s preserve.

The candidate’s vision for the city, the perceived lack of trust between citizens and Scottsdale government and the large number of closed executive sessions held by the council were underlying themes at the forum.

“We need to get beyond confrontation to collaboration,” first-term Councilwoman Drake said about the need for the council to work toward common goals.

Manross talked about needing to establish a “balance” in the community. Lane brought up the need to stop wasting taxpayer money, which he suggested could be done by instilling his business approach at the city hall Kiva.

Washington simply said the City Council can do a much better job and that he “wants to be part of that.”

Most candidates indicated that while they would not oppose taller buildings in downtown Scottsdale they want none north of the 101 Freeway or the CAP Canal.

Lane said proposed increases in height downtown “have to be considered.” He favors buildings being capped at 65 feet downtown and 50 feet around the airpark.

Ironically, a downtown plan released earlier this week calls for relaxing the rules on building heights downtown.

Manross spoke about preserving views in the city, adding “we are starting to lose some of that.”

She said the council needs to work to “keep downtown vibrant” as well as the airpark. She brought up capping building heights at 10 to 12 stories. She wants to keep building heights lower than that north of the CAP canal.

Washington said he would work toward prohibiting buildings over 36 feet. He also expressed concerns about the added traffic congestion that could come with taller buildings.

“How much are we willing to suffer for height?” he asked. “How much traffic are we willing to put up with?”

Borowsky said that while applications for tall buildings need to be considered on a “case-by case basis” she would oppose increases in height north of the CAP Canal.

Bramoweth said he would consider taller buildings in three areas (downtown, Scottsdale Road by the Airpark and along the 101 Freeway). He would cap buildings in the rest of the city at 36 feet.

Drake brought up a couple of areas, and buildings, where “added height is warranted” such as the Scottsdale Healthcare building on Shea Boulevard and on Scottsdale Road near the new Waterfront area.

Giller took a different approach saying he would oppose any height increases except for Scottsdale Healthcare.

“At the Airpark traffic is already a nightmare at 36 feet,” he said. “Outside of the 101 anything taller than that is out of the question.”

Klapp said added height needs to be considered if growth in the city is to continue. She said the planning process in areas like the Airpark and downtown needs to be “allowed to proceed.”

McCullagh said, “The greatness of a city is not defined by the height of its buildings,” adding increased building heights in south Scottsdale could serve as a “tool of revitalization.”
Nesvig pointed out the downtown plan allows for taller buildings. She also talked about “quality of life,” commenting that building height needs to be dictated by people living in neighborhoods.