(May 17, 2017) – Traditional "Large Lot Zoning" is "Greener" than "Smart Growth" within Urban Growth Boundaries . . . Copyright 2009 – 2017 . . . Tom Lane . . . Photographing California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.
UNDER CONSTRUCTION (May 25, 2015, Tom Lane) Recently, I observed kids in a Phoenix park near North 40th Street and Bell Road riding a dirt bike over green grass in the park. It occurred to me that these teens have nothing to do after school.This is a problem with many urban areas in large cities of several hundred thousand persons (Phoenix, per se, is 1.5 Million). However, exactly one mile north of this park is a large area of state trust lands, along with the Reach Recreation Area, that extends several miles eastward to Scottsdale, near West World and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve (as shown by my other post).
You can see these state trust lands driving Mayo Boulevard westward from Scottsdale Road (the road terminates in a cul de sac beyond the Musical Instrument Museum). You can look down on these lands driving on the elevated section of 101, looking southward. Currently, this area in North Phoenix and North Scottsdale is under development with the Desert Ridge Mall of big box stores, an extension of the Mayo Clinic, and high density, “Smart Growth” residential towers such as “High Street,” “56 Apartments North, “Jefferson,” and “90 Degrees.”
I do not know the future plans for this wide expanse of State Trust Land. However, these kids would have something to do if the McDowell Mountain Preserve, in Scottsdale, was extended westward with bike, hiking, and equestrian trails, and perhaps an area of off road vehicles. Otherwise, the North Phoenix kids and their parents have to drive 20 miles north, to the Tonto National Forest, and pay an admission fee. Which means that if the kids don’t have a drivers license, then they have to wait until the weekend. So on weekdays, they’ll keep driving their dirt bikes in the park in North Phoenix.
But some urban dwellers would be opposed to off road vehicles within a big city. However, I can cite several examples where off road vehicles are within two miles of expensive residential areas. One, is the Auburn State Recreation Area near Auburn, California, and the second is near Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Of course, I don’t necessarily recommend OHV vehicles so close to residential areas, but I think you see my point that these kids have nothing to do without more wide expanses of open space in north central Phoenix. While such parks are noisy during operation, their hours can be limited, perhaps to weekends only, 1030am to sunset. Many recreational activities are noisy, such as the Ben Avery Shooting Range in NW Phoenix, that disturbs the Tramanto HOA.
But more important than guns or OHV’s, it is important to provide open space networks for cyclists, pedestrians, and equestrians, within the center of a city, rather than at the periphery. Otherwise, kids get bored, and they don’t necessarily have cars to drive to peripheral areas such as the McDowell Mountains Preserve or the Tonto National Forest (both are north and east of Scottsdale). Although, Phoenix and Scottsdale, and surrounding cities, already have lots of open space within their city limits, even in the center of cities in high density areas. For example, the South Mountain Park in Phoenix is just a few miles of downtown Phoenix, and is the largest urban park in the United States. It is unclear how much smart growth Phoenix and Scottsdale want. Scottsdale councilors Guy Phillips and Kathy Littlefield are opposed to the towers, along with Bob Capell of the Greater Pinnacle Peak Association.
But many trust funders with Oil, Fracking, and IT money emigrating from Orange and Ventura Counties, Texas, Utah, and the east coast want high density areas with other singles, shopping, bars, and entertainment. At least, until they get married and want a single family home with a private yard.
Overall, the greater Phoenix metro area provides the ideal laboratory for urban expansion. The city grows in all directions over private lands and state trust lands. To my understanding (more info needed!), the Maricopa County Council of Governments and/or the Department of State Lands designates large areas of open space as the metro region increases in size. Often, these parcels are at the periphery of the metro area, such as the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Extending the Preserve to Desert Ridge, near the park I visited in North Central Phoenix, would allow hundreds of thousands of Phoenix residents access to the preserve. While the trail would not be contiguous, this could be fixed by building a giant skybridge over Scottsdale Road near Princess Drive, leading to Westworld. Again, my other post focuses on the opportunity to expand and improve the Reach greenbelt.
Smart Growth Towers Taking Over the Desert
The alarming rate of construction of smart growth towers in North Phoenix and North Scottsdale is totally out of character with these formerly low density parts of the cities. If smart growth tower construction is not stopped, it could destroy all chances for open space and affordable single family housing. Rents for these new towers are astronomical, up to $1300 a month for a 500 square foot studio. Compare that to $1600 for a one bedroom in more desirable coastal locations such as Irvine and Thousand Oaks.
At this point, since it takes several thousand dollars to relocate properly, then it might be cheaper for some folks just to stay in Southern California, especially when wages are higher.
Since both Phoenix and Scottsdale have financial problems, then such towers are not a good idea, since infrastructure to serve high density areas is expensive. Six lane boulevards with sidewalks, bike lanes, and utilities are more expensive for high density areas compared to low density, single family residential. Scottsdale residents might be asked to raise property taxes again, and it is doubtful that they will want to fund infrastructure for the towers. They prefer living in low density homes and condos, surrounded by native desert vegetation. Indeed, that’s why they moved to Scottsdale in the first place.
Smart growth towers belong in areas where people don’t care about the environment, and play video games all day, such as Tempe, Portland, and Seattle. On this web site, I get so tired of editing smart growth tower photos. It is so boring. And it seems like city councilors are clueless with how expensive these towers are compared to low density zoning. They should all take a class in Urban Economics from Jan Brueckner at UC-Irvine. In most cities, city councilors seem to have no architectural or aesthetic standards. For them, it’s all about money, including dark money (see below). Unfortunately, for every city that I cover, I have to show the horrible smart growth architecture, along with nice low density properties.
High Street Smart Growth Towers (Phoenix)
The photo at the top of this post looks eastward, from the High Street Smart Growth parking garage tower towards Scottsdale and North Phoenix. Like many other smart growth developments in North Phoenix and North Scottsdale, High Street is “in the middle of nowhere.” There are no amenities other than high end retail shopping and dining both within High Street and at Desert Ridge, with limited grocery stores and big box stores. If you trespass on State Trust Land to run or bicycle, you will go to jail. Apartments at High Street and within Desert Ridge have not been incorporated into a “master plan” of grocery stores, big box stores, and open space.
Serving North Phoenix – The Former Bridge to Nowhere – the 64th Street Overpass Opens In May, 2015, the former “bridge to nowhere” over SR-101, N. 64th Street, opened between SR-101 and Mayo Boulevard. Ultimately this street will extend northward into the North Phoenix Smart Growth area described here. From the overpass, you can see how much land is in jeopardy of going towards high density development, and the huge opportunities for open space:
Desert Ridge Towers
In the Desert Ridge Area. Ultimately, tens of thousands of apartment dwellers, in towers up to six stories, including Elan, and “56NorthApartments.com.”
Marketing Problem with “56NorthApartments.Com”
Their web site mentions several amenities. However, these are several miles away, except for Desert Ridge. The closest Wallmart Supercenter and Target are about 8 miles away, in North Scottsdale. Hiking and biking in Cave Creek are 12 miles away, while sailing at Lake Pleasant is 22 miles away. If there was a local greenebelt, then recreation would be within the distance of a football field.
“Cheers to a bold and fresh approach to mid-century modern style and sophistication. 56North combines resort-inspired amenities with impeccably designed and generously sized spaces at an impressive North Phoenix address. Take your choice of fully appointed 1- and 2-bedroom apartments with designer-selected finishes and fixtures, debuting for lease this spring. Throughout this upscale Desert Ridge community, you’ll discover dynamic design and a social culture to mix and mingle, work out and unwind, celebrate and indulge. 56 North’s stunning backdrop: the desert’s timeless tones and texture. Your nearby destinations: the area’s best dining and shopping. Stroll or drive to Desert Ridge Marketplace, Scottsdale 101, Scottsdale Quarter and Kierland Commons and Paradise Valley Mall. Enjoy nature, hiking and biking in nearby Cave Creek or go sailing at Lake Pleasant. Work on your golf game at Wildfire Golf Club or The Boulders. Get inspired at Phoenix Arts Museum, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, or Phoenix Symphony.Discover life well-lived, exclusively at 56North.”
56North – More Expensive than Scottsdale!
The cheapest one bedroom in 56North will be $1120. The median rent in South Scottsdale near Old Town is in the 900’s. Even apartments within North Scottsdale covered by the ESLO (environmentally sensitive lands ordinance) start in the 900’s.
Ventura and Orange Counties, in Southern California, are about $1500+ So if you’re in Southern California in an old, run down apartment with cracked streets and desire something new, you won’t save that much, especially when gas is $2.99 a gallon right now (nobody has gone over $3, at least not yet). If you like Reno, Carson City, and Lake Tahoe better because they’re more laid back, then stay there, they definitely are more laid back compared to Arizona. You’re median rent also remains in the 900’s.
Reno gives North Phoenix and North Scottsdale a Run for the Money
The Bungalows at Sky Vista in Reno are not smart growth towers. Instead, these one story apartments provide mountain views, along with private patios and private garages – and even a community garden. The price? Starting at $940, in the city that never has any traffic, with close proximity to Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake. I’ll take Reno’s lower rents, no state income tax, its active outdoor enthusiasts, cheap food at the casinos, and more laid back libertarian atmosphere, any day.
Scottsdale Towers – Hidden from “Public View” Behind the Scottsdale Quarter
The Scottsdale Quarter is located in North Scottsdale at the corner of Butherus and Scottsdale Road, across from Kierland. It’s a very nice upscale shopping and dining area, full of shops such as Apple, Urban Outfitters, and The Nike Store. Given that Scottsdale’s number one industry is tourism, then an area of dozens of upscale shops with dining venues is perfectly appropriate. Unfortunately, travelers on Scottsdale Road cannot see the thousands of units now under construction, in several Smart Growth Towers on the eastern edge of the property.
Even DC Ranch, one of the richest HOA’s in North Scottsdale, has allowed towers on the western edge of its property. “Camden North,” features three story towers behind a shopping center anchored by “AJ’s Fine Foods.” These are at Legacy and Pima Road, and area so far north within the City that one fears if the towers will continue to be built all the way up to Pinnacle Peak and Troon.
Photos of State Trust Lands and Proposed Greenbelt to STOP THE TOWERS
This would make a perfect greenbelt from Scottsdale to North Phoenix. This is under construction and obviously another post (one of the others already here) will include more on a proposed Greenbelt to STOP THE TOWERS, and give the kids something to do after school.
As demand for Phoenix and Scottsdale housing increases as unemployment decreases, migration to the region will increase. Many young singles, who tend to be “pre-yuppies,” and are not college students or others who want to be in noisy party areas of downtown Phoenix or Tempe, will choose North Scottsdale and North Phoenix.
Unfortunately, rental housing is very expensive in these areas. New and relatively new apartments rent at $1100+, such as the Scottsdale Quarter Towers, Ninety Degrees, Jefferson, Elan, High Street, and Camden North (at Pima and Legacy).
Even older apartments in these areas are expensive, well over $900. The greater Phoenix area, ultimately, will become as expensive as Los Angeles, Orange, and Ventura Counties. With Smart Growth Towers, all these areas could eventually become as expensive as Portland, Seattle, and Boulder, where smart growth principles were started in the first place. I have never encountered an affordable smart growth tower.
In sharp contrast, standards two story apartments in the northeast heights of Albuquerque are 30% less. Furthermore, reflecting the California trend of asking for income meeting “three times the monthly rent,” many singles who have moved out of their parents’ basements in Orange and Ventura Counties, will have to keep driving to New Mexico or Durango, Colorado, where this income question is not asked nearly as frequently, due to the preponderance of local management companies and private owners, who offer casitas and duplexes. And, detatched housing products are much cheaper, as they are in Salt Lake City:
The North Phoenix Homeless Problem
North Phoenix faces an escalating homeless problem, due to a shortage of affordable rental housing. Note the graph below of “homelessness” vs. “affordable housing.” The towers currently under construction are not affordable, since three times the monthly rent ($1200) is an income of $3600 monthly. Nobody makes that.
So Phoenix and Scottsdale have an unusual scenario of roomates sharing tiny one bedroom apartments. This is not the case in Albuquerque, with rents that are much less and the “three times the monthly rent” requirement is not asked frequently as in Arizona, Nevada, and California (i.e. the three states for “The Rich”). As I’ve always said, the “R” in Reno means “R” For “Rich,” and the “S” in Scottsdale is “S” for the “$ – Dollar” sign.
Since my Libertarian anti-smart growth friends read my blog, then yes – technically, blocking off land for open space would mean less housing, period. However, since the developers are charging too much for rents, then perhaps the region should spread out on cheaper state trust lands to the south and west of the metro, and create “Scottsdale – II” Perhaps rents in “Scottsdale – II” might start at $750 monthly instead of $1200. Meanwhile, North Phoenix needs open space to give EXISTING residents – the children – something to do after school. Right now, they have nothing to do, and the City of Scottsdale is never outbid on any open space they try to acquire, according to the Arizona State Lands Department.
More “Towers In the Desert”
Here are photos of developments near Mayo Boulevard, surrounded by State Trust Lands, in the City Limits of Phoenix:
South Scottsdale – Old Town – What A Mess!
So much for low density “Old Town,” as Smart Growth Towers are filling nearly every vacant piece of real estate downtown. The traffic in 2015 was twice as bad as 2012, and at least five times as bad as 2008-2010. I could not find the entrance to my motel, and had to turn around on side streets in residential neighborhoods six times over an hour, only to find that the nightly rate was $179 (a few years ago, it was just $49). If Smart Growth Tower construction does not cease, downtown Scottsdale will become just as bad as Boulder or Seattle.
Tempe Smart Growth Towers
These are the worst in the metro. Tempe, as the 8th most dangerous suburb in the US, should place a moratorium on new construction, and clean up its crime problem before things get worse with more people. Indeed, the Phoenix New Times says this about Tempe’s transition:
” Longtime residents worry about Tempe’s character changing.
More high-density development will bring in more traffic congestion and crime, and homeowners and families are expected to be replaced by apartment dwellers and childless adults in certain areas.
The influx of new residents, workers, and tall buildings will change Tempe in fundamental ways. With about 40,000 students attending ASU’s main campus, Tempe always will be a fun place to hang out. But it remains to be seen whether the city, founded in the pioneer era, can sustain so much growth and retain its high quality of life for residents.
Indeed, the potential exists for financial shortfalls, more vacant offices and storefronts, traffic gridlock, fewer places to park, and more noisy neighbors who care only about the next keg party. “
Better Apartment Design in Scottsdale’s ESLO Zone
The ESLO Zone is for the environmentally sensitive lands ordinance. This area requires buildings with earth tones, dark skies with fully shielded short pole light fixtures, and many areas ban overnight street parking. More later. Below, you can see how this two story apartment (with the chimneys) blends nicely with the HOA behind it (McDowell Mountain Ranch) and the McDowell Mountains. The
Kathy Littlefield comments on “anonymous dark money” coming in the form of anonymous mailers, from developers of “smart growth towers.” In this video, Kathy Littlefield, in reference to the Smart Growth Tower Developers, states: “If they say jump, the only question will be. – “How high is that apartment building that you want?” Video #2 of Kathy Littlefield – The dark money tried to destroy Kathy Littlefield’s campaign, with anonymous mailers from Scottsdale United, and Scottsdale Strong. The dark money with its anonymous mailers totally destroyed Bob Littlefield’s campaign for the 43rd Legislative District. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mneLy1z5J4c
Scottsdale Dark Money Television Commercial
This video for the fall 2014 election states that Linda Milhaven, Dennis Robbins, and Jennifer Peterson accepted dark money. Of these three, only Milhaven won. The dark money came from the Barry Goldwater foundation and a group that supports light rail. In my ex-hometown of Seattle, it would be nice if the dark money supporting smart growth and light rail, and the failed Bertha Tunnel Project (“Seattle’s Big Dig to Nowhere”), would be exposed, as proponents of smart growth were exposed in Scottsdale last fall. John Washington discusses the Scottsdale dark money in this article. Residents of Scottsdale must watch the current council very carefully, to make sure that councilors such as Virginia Korte do not succeed in their goals to bring light rail to Scottsdale, clogging up traffic on Scottsdale Road. Internationally known light rail consultant Thomas A. Rubin of Oakland, California concluded that light rail would cause horrible gridlock in Scottsdale.