The city of Scottsdale is working on its general plan, but there is some controversy. Earlier this year, several members of a planning commission quit in protest. Laraine Rodgers, a current member Scottsdale General Plan Task Force, and Jim Heitel, the former co-chair of the task force, will discuss the issue from both sides.
Ted Simons: Every years Arizona cities are required by law to draft a new general plan, but Scottsdale voters rejected the city's latest plan back in 2012. A task force was formed to address the problem, but the task force became a problem when disagreements led to four panel members quitting in protest earlier this year. Here now to discuss the complex effort to create a plan for Scottsdale's future is Laraine Rodgers, current member of the task force, and Jim Heitel, the former Co-Chair of the group. Before we get too far, what is a general plan?
Laraine Rodgers: Well, a general plan is a collective vision of how we want Scottsdale to evolve over the next 10 to 20 years. It's important for all of us, and in terms of future decisions, it's going to be based on that. But it's a legal mandate, too, required by state statute, also by our city charter.
Ted Simons: What happens if you can't get a general plan? Is there a deadline? What happens if you miss the deadline?
Jim Heitel: The State has mandated that by 2015 there was an extension granted that the cities needed to redo their general plan or readopt their current one. Conversation going on now is just how to put that plan together so it works for the community.
Ted Simons: And we mentioned the general plan was voted down in March of . Why did that happen?
Laraine Rodgers: I think there were several reasons why it was voted down. One, I think the public had a lot of information that didn't seem well put together. They had in some cases probably misinformation, but in other cases they had only a piece of it. Part of that was due to the format of the plan, the way the task force was selected. They were just individuals from each of the different boards and commissions. Those individuals worked on their piece, if you will. They didn't have continuous responsibility throughout the whole entire plan from beginning to end. Not so today. Also from a communications standpoint, I don't think the word really went out to everybody at the right time. A lot of people didn't know. What's a general plan? Why are we voting on a general plan? And it was a special election, as well.
Ted Simons: Why do you think the plan was voted down?
Jim Heitel: I think there were a lot more issues involved than that. The citizens of Scottsdale tend to be very involved in their communities, and leadership sort of requires clarity of vision. That general plan in a way is supposed to provide that clarity of the vision of the citizens to the leaders of the community, and clearly it failed because the community did not feel it provided that vision.
Ted Simons: So we now have a new task force with the idea of a new vote and new general plan. Four members, yourself included, decide you don't want to be involved anymore. What's going on here?
Jim Heitel: Well, very interesting. When I talk about it, I just want to say it's great seeing Laraine again, we've enjoyed being on the task force for many, many months. When I talk about maybe a lot of reasons the four of us left, I don't mean to infer the Laraine's of the task force, that I'm directing my comments towards them. Four of us that left probably have a collective years of community service, councilmembers, Planning Commission, I'm currently Preserve Commission chairman and so forth and so on. I think we in a way made a mistake when we joined this task force. We thought there was actually a desire by the community and by the task force to investigate and talk through the big issues, the big elephants in the room effectively, as to why the 2011 plan did fail.
Ted Simons: You don't think that happened?
Jim Heitel: You know, I think we were effective in bringing those issues to the table. But when we started to press those issues for resolution, some of the members of the task force got quite defensive, quite arbitrary, and quite abusive. We didn't want to lend our good names to that kind of process.
Ted Simons: I believe the description was "an unhealthy vilification of concerns." There were bullying, intimidation, they were ignored, valid?
Laraine Rodgers: Let me say there was great passion on our task force. We all went on -- I really think Jim and I share a desire to help our city grow and have a good general plan into the future. There was a lot of passion, for sure. However, I think there are three important things to remember. One, the general plan is still in draft. It is absolutely still in draft. We are still taking, actively seeking, please give us input. A key day to remember is April 15th. Not just tax day, but the last day to get your thoughts in. We want to make sure we understand and entertain all of the input and perspectives. Second, the G.P. is certain things and is not other things. It's important that we focus on that, too, as we go through our work. Third and finally, the process, the format and the content. I think we did learn a lot and I probably just hit the surface before some of the top things. Jim brings up some other points. There are many points. We've addressed I'd say a good number if not close to 90% of the concerns from before. We want more, we absolutely want more. Come Monday night to the task force meeting, go online, come to our open houses. But please do that. We did entertain many, many -- we did talk at length. We added four special sessions because, as Jim said, there were a lot of things that really required more dialogue.
Ted Simons: Quickly though, I don't want to get too lost in the weeds, but as far as the overview, in researching this you've got growth and you've got either smart growth or knock it off with the growth. Is that the big problem here?
Jim Heitel: No, no, not at all. I think first of all, the city has not done a very good job in defining to the public what the general plan is, in a way. One of their recent publications said the general plan is a desired vision for the general - a general desired vision for the city. Goals without guidelines, that infers. That was one of the challenges with the 2011 plan and we fear it could be the challenge for this plan. The Arizona state statute has a different definition of that. It says it's a municipal statement of land development policies, set for the objectives, operational standards. Our challenge to this task force is to now take your goals, these lofty ideals you have and put them into defined guidelines, specific guidelines that appointed officials can look at projects and evaluate whether that project is beneficial to the city or is not beneficial.
Ted Simons: So specificity is the problem on your end.
Jim Heitel: Guidelines.
Ted Simons: Guidelines, specificity---
Laraine Rodgers: Very, very important. I agree, my background is information systems. I trust, but I verify and I need to see it. I struggled in the beginning trying to tie together the vision and the values, all the elements which talk about the key things. Then, how are we going to know this is done? We need an implementation plan, we need metrics. All of this is absolutely key. We now have a draft implementation plan that talks about short, medium and longer term. It links everything, it shows which of the vision and value statements that were created by the public actually tie to each of the specific areas. And that is important. I think we've done our best to address specificity, and again, please, if there is more input we'd love it.
Ted Simons: I mentioned growth, smart growth or no growth, from a distance it seemed like that was a bit of a line of demarcation. What about the idea of the nature of Scottsdale, the changing nature? Those who see Scottsdale more as what it was, and those who think that's in the past and it's time to move to the future and compete with the Phoenix's, Tempe's and the Mesa's of the world.
Laraine Rodgers: I don't see things as or's. It doesn't have to be this or that. We don't live in that world. I see it as a world of and's. We're just not going to build in the McDowell Mountain Preserve, we're not going to. I think it's appropriate to look into the context of what we're going to do and where the changes are going to take place.
Ted Simons: You sound awfully agreeable for a debate here, but you quit this panel and three other folks with you quit this panel. Something wasn't going very well, and it can't be more than -- has to be more than just specificity. What's going on?
Jim Heitel: It was not a proper context to have a discussion about the important issues. What really needs to happen moving forward -- Laraine says we're not going to build a high-rise here or there. There are no guidelines for the city to evaluate anything right now. There are just a lot of lofty goals. Yes, we want open space. Yes, we want good neighborhoods. Yes, we want high-rises, yes, we want high density. All of these things. Any development project, it's almost as if the development projects are doing the planning for the city right now. And in our opinion one of the challenges is to have this guide to a public-private sort of decision-making process, that specifically evaluates the effects of projects of height, density, population growth. Those sorts of things. There is an element that would -- that is very much attracted to a very high density, high-rise sort of mentality for Scottsdale, with its attendant traffic problems and with no discussion about the economic problems that it can create.
Ted Simons: Which is the nature of Scottsdale, the future nature--- Please, go ahead.
Laraine Rodgers: The nature of our general plan is not -- it's not a master plan, it's not a development plan, it's not a detailed plan. It is a guideline. And with the implementation plan coming together, then the planning department has to coordinate among all the different groups to make that happen. We've added a lot of what some may call protections, if you will, into the general plan where areas, like in order to make a change -- and by the way, by law, the general plan has to be amendable. In order to make a change, and you wanted to introduce something, and say this was a major change, it used to be easier. We've made it harder. The actual numbers are eight hoops, it used to be three or four. We've added those, and so far we've gotten pretty good for it.
Ted Simons: So a soft green light for development without any real guidelines or---
Laraine Rodgers: I don't see that.
Ted Simons: Just a little bit?
Jim Heitel: The plan thus far has not addressed those specific guidelines.
Ted Simons: You've really got something going there. Good to have you both here.
Jim Heitel: It was very nice having us.
Laraine Rodgers: Thank you.
Laraine Rodgers:Member, Scottsdale General Plan Task Force; Jim Heitel:Former Co-Chair, Scottsdale General Plan Task Force;