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The Phoenix Planning and Economic Development Subcommittee met on June 4th to discuss several topics, including the American Legion Post #1, located at 7th Avenue & Grand, The South Phoenix Convention Hall, and the large Cemex property located along the Salt River south of Downtown.

The nearly 2.5-hour meeting also included a presentation regarding an upcoming eScooter pilot program, as well as some public opposition to a developer rezoning effort on a section of land just south of Carefree Highway along the 24th street alignment. 

Taylor-Morrison development at the Sonoran Preserve

Scottsdale-based developer Taylor-Morrison is seeking to build a development on land adjacent to the Cave Buttes Recreation Area, commonly known in the area as the Sonoran Desert Preserve. As part of its efforts, Taylor-Morrison has proposed zoning changes that have raised the ire of the local community, including the removal of a Desert Character Overlay as well as a density change from 1 house per acre to 3 houses per acre.

Two members of the Far North Phoenix community spoke at the beginning of the meeting to voice opposition to the change, including a representative from the newly-formed Save Our Sonoran Preserve, which is organizing opposition to the zoning change. The zoning case does not currently have any hearings scheduled, but can be tracked here.

Location of proposed Taylor-Morrison development

American Legion Post redevelopment

Phoenix is host to one of the first three American Legion posts in the United States, located at the intersection of 7th Avenue and Grand. The land the Legion sits on was donated to the City in 1920 to for the purposes of constructing the post and the Legion building was built under a 99-year lease, which expired on Feb 20th, 2019. Phoenix is seeking to redevelop the property into a mixed-use center that would include housing, a veteran’s center, and potentially a restaurant or other commercial spaces. The Subcommittee heard a variety of messages from members of the community, including pleas to save all or part of the building. The committee also heard from a representative of the American Legion post who endorsed the issuance of a redevelopment RFP and indicated previous negotiations with the city that led to the stipulations regarding a veterans’ center and affordable housing with a preference for veterans.

During the presentation, city staff also explained that a historic preservation designation on the building, which had been applied for and subsequently withdrawn, would have required that any new development not obstruct the viewing angles of the building, including from along 7th avenue, grand avenue, and a section of Polk St. The resulting plot of land available for redevelopment would consist of a roughly 10,000 square foot zone along Polk St, just northwest of the existing building. Staff indicated that 10,000 square feet is about the size of an average single family home lot in Phoenix, and is not large enough to accommodate the type of development the City is seeking, meaning that any meaningful redevelopment requires the building be torn down.

South Phoenix Convention Center

The Subcommittee brought back the South Phoenix Convention hall RFP, an issue from the last meeting, this time for action instead of information-only. The committee heard a presentation from Christine Mackay, Director of Economic Development for the City of Phoenix, and John Chan, the City’s Convention Center director. Mackay and Chan reviewed the Convention Center complex and its competitive situation against cities’ convention spaces, as well as the city’s current disposition regarding the property. The South Convention Center hall, which opened in 1985, is coming of age and generates far less revenue for the city than the two newer convention center buildings. The City is interested in proposals for redevelopment of the site with a likely aim of build a larger hall, and Mackay proposed that the subcommittee approve an information gathering and community outreach project in order to develop a menu of options for the subcommittee to consider in the fall and potentially issue an RFP. The proposal was approved.

Cemex property

Mexico-based cement and aggregate company Cemex is currently negotiating the sale of 2 large properties located on Central avenue along the Salt River. The Committee received an information-only presentation regarding the two sites. 

The City is aware that Cemex is currently negotiating a sale of the sites with a buyer, but does not appear to know who the buyer is. “As soon as we find out who that is, we’ll bring them into the process” said Mackay, who also indicated that Cemex had received multiple offers on the site. 

Following the presentation by Mackay, Councilman Nowakowski mentioned that the Cemex properties “represent an important gateway into South Phoenix, […] and I’d hate to see it just become a bunch of warehouses. I’d like to make sure that whoever does purchase this is open to some type dialogue with the community.”

The Cemex properties’ current zoning allows for building heights of up to 56 feet, but this can be extended to 110 feet with special variances. The subcommittee expressed a willingness to address the zoning, and Nowakowski directed city staff to work with the South Mountain TOD Steering Committee to look at the overlays to ensure Phoenix gets “quality development.”

eScooters coming to Downtown. 

The city of Phoenix is getting ready to reopen the downtown area to electronic scooters, this time with new regulations. Phoenix is launching a pilot program that will see several vendors enter a test market, including Lift, BIRD, Lime, and Spin, a newly-acquired subsidiary of The Ford Motor Company.

The updated regulations include a variety of measures designed to prevent the types of issues that previously caused complaints from citizens, such as scooters being abandoned in neighborhoods and riders speeding dangerously down sidewalks. Specifically, some of the regulations include a maximum speed of 15 mph, a requirement that scooter operators be 18 or older with a valid driver’s license (verified by the vendor apps), use bike lanes instead of the sidewalk, and park in one of about 400 soon-to-be-designated scooter parking areas.

Phoenix is also requiring vendors to equip the scooters with geofencing technology that will automatically slow down the scooters if they travel outside of a defined boundary, roughly limited to the area between the 7’s between McDowell on the north and Buckeye at the south, with an extension along Grand Avenue up to Roosevelt Street. Beyond this boundary, scooters will slow to a maximum of 4 mph, forcing the operator to walk the scooter. In addition, vendors are required to pick up any scooters abandoned outside of parking spaces within 2 hours or the City will relocate them instead and assess a fee of $80. 

During the discussion phase, council members Pastor and Mendoza both indicated a desire to ensure vendors are standing by to pick up scooters “24/7” and addressed a couple ambiguities regarding the city’s indemnification language. Several representatives of the prospective scooter vendors were present at the meeting to address questions, and all expressed a willingness and capability to comply with the new regulations.

Towards the end of the discussion, Councilman Nowakowski also expressed concern about the current lack of bicycle infrastructure in the downtown area: “If we’re going to limit the scooters to the streets and not on the sidewalks then we better have the infrastructure for that. I would hate to see that we’re forcing people out on a busy street with no bike lanes”. He thanked city staff for including additional bicycle infrastructure in the policy recommendations that are being formulated in preparation for this pilot. 

It is not clear when exactly this pilot program will launch. The eScooter presentation at this meeting was information-only, meaning there was no vote authorizing the issue to go to the full council, and the next meeting of this subcommittee will take place in September, so it’s likely the committee will come back for action in the fall.

Anthony Previte