Canalside: New residential building slips into Fifth Avenue vacant lot

Posted 8/25/20

A new 54-unit multifamily residential proposal received a split 4-3 vote by the City Council to provide a small pocket of housing in Old Town Scottsdale.

The tight Council vote was rendered on …

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Canalside: New residential building slips into Fifth Avenue vacant lot


A new 54-unit multifamily residential proposal received a split 4-3 vote by the City Council to provide a small pocket of housing in Old Town Scottsdale.

The tight Council vote was rendered on Aug. 24, after the project receiving unanimous recommendations from the Development Review Board and Planning Commission this summer.

Called Canalside, owners Stockdale Capital Partners, represented by Jason Morris of Withey Morris PLC, sought a zoning district map amendment for a mixed-use development consisting of 54 units of multifamily residential, and approximately 900-square-feet of non-residential open space.

Councilmembers Solange Whitehead, Kathy Littlefield and Guy Phillips voted against the project.

Canalside’s location is described as a gateway to Old Town, with plans to fill a small pocket of vacant land on the western most side of Fifth Avenue just before Indian School Road. The new residential building will be adjacent to the Arizona Canal near 68th Street.

The parcel is 1.17 acres, with a proposed height of 54 feet. Mr. Morris says the project will have underground parking, with three floors of residential units.

The total project is estimated to cost between $20 million-$30 million, according to Mr. Morris.

In total, 66 spaces are provided — six more than required — which includes 57 spaces for residential parking, and three for guests.

While Canalside received majority council approval and several letters of support from community members were recorded by city officials, others are opposing the project.

“Until the council fixes our inadequate parking code, every new development that bases its parking on it will be severely under-parked, with a potential of cannibalizing the immediate area’s public parking,” resident and proprietor Bob Pejman said in a public letter to the City Council.

Councilmembers who voted against the project voiced concern with adequate parking, housing desires and density.

The ins-and-outs of Canalside

The Canalside property previously was zoned for a commercial property prior to Council’s approval; it now will include the designation of “downtown multiple-use.”

Scottsdale Senior Planner Greg Bloemberg pointed out the property is on the boundary of the Old Town Scottsdale Character Area Plan.

During his presentation, Mr. Bloemberg drew attention to the plan’s open space.

“The reason I wanted to show you this is because the downtown, or the Old Town, area does not require any open space for projects,” Mr. Bloemberg said.

“It’s worth pointing out that this particular development includes quite a bit of open space — some along Indian School, some along Fifth Avenue, and of course along the canal bank — it’s worth noting they’re providing, I think it’s almost 9,400-square-feet of open space with this project even though it’s not required.”

Development plans also include new detached 8-foot-wide sidewalks along Indian School Road and Fifth Avenue; as well as a mid-block walkway connection to the canal bank.

“That’s something we’re pretty happy about,” Mr. Bloemberg said of the pedestrian walkway to the canal.

“If this project were to come to fruition, that would be a great connection for pedestrians to get from the canal or to the canal from Fifth Avenue.”

Mr. Morris gave a presentation on the project following Mr. Bloemberg. He described Canalside as an opportunity to create a new entry way to Fifth Avenue, at the same time using a vacant lot.

Canalside, Mr. Morris says, is considered a small residential project. It’s one of the smallest projects his firm has been associated with Valley-wide.

“It’s certainly not what you’re used to seeing,” Mr. Morris said of the 54 units.
Plans call for 51 one-bedroom units, with three two-bedroom units.

Of the different blueprints for the Old Town area, Mr. Morris believes Canalside fits within the requirements of each set of guidelines.

The residential building has been pushed back from the street front of Fifth Avenue and Indian School Road to create open space at the front of the building.

“We have worked extensively with the residents and the merchants in the area, and I will point out they are delighted with the idea of 54 units of potential retail shoppers and service-oriented customers for the Fifth Avenue merchants,” Mr. Morris said.

Split views

While Councilwoman Solange Whitehead says there’s a lot of aspects of Canalside to like — and she believes the area does need residential — she was not supportive of the project.

“I like the open space, I like the connectivity to the canal, but I think we have a case of ‘Goldilocks,’” Ms. Whitehead explained, pointing out the current zoning.

“The applicant has maxed out on how much can be put on this tiny little entry to our city. So that is where my concern is. I think the applicant could have, and in my opinion should have, come to us and say ‘We need more height,’ and I would agree with that.”

Ms. Whitehead says a better fit for the parcel would have been somewhere between 30-50 units.

“It’s such an intense project, even though I like many aspects of it, an intense project for a 1-acre piece of land,” Ms. Whitehead said.

Councilwoman Linda Milhaven, on the other hand, says she thinks the project is “perfect” for this spot.

Ms. Milhaven made the motion to approve Canalside, which was seconded by Councilwomen Suzanne Klapp and Virginia Korte simultaneously.

“I don’t believe this property was maxed out when you look at 9,500-square-foot of open space, and one is required,” Ms. Klapp said. “I think they tried to put a project here that does respect the Fifth Avenue and pedestrian walkways; provides good landscaping in the front and nice canalscaping in the back. I think they’ve taken a very difficult piece of land and created the highest and best use they could.”

Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield also is concerned about the density, calling it “jam-packed.”

Ms. Littlefield questioned the parking — if the building is mostly made up of one-bedroom units — will married couples be expected to have only one vehicle?

“You better hope to high-heavens they don’t both have cars, because there’s not going to be a place for them,” Ms. Littlefield.

Ms. Littlefield pointed to the “new normal” of COVID-19, with entire families working and learning from home.

“I’m not sure this fits the bill of what most people are looking for right now in the way of residential,” she said.

Poking holes into Canalside

Mr. Pejman, who emailed a letter opposing Canalside based on the parking for the residents just as the City Council meeting began, pointed to a former promise given by Scottsdale’s elected leaders.

In February, the Council gave direction to staff to report back with a proposed plan to address parking in the Old Town area.

Parking has long been a debated issue — what is too much or too little parking? — that is gaining momentum as more development comes online in Old Town. Area proprietors, like Mr. Pejman, want to ensure guests’ trips to Old Town are not overshadowed by not being able to find parking.

“No such step has been taken. Why?” Mr. Pejman asked of addressing the parking question.

“Perhaps to protect the developers’ interests, since building more parking spaces will increase their cost and lowers their profit. Of course, lack of adequate parking harms our merchants, our visitors, and therefore lowers the city’s brand. It seems that with the current council, this is of no concern.”

Mr. Pejman, using comparable cities in California to base his assertions on, believes Canalside should provide an extra 33 parking spots beyond the city’s requirement of one spot per unit.

“So, where will these 33 extra cars park, absent dedicated spaces? On the street public parking spaces, would be the first guess,” he said.

Mayoral candidate David Ortega said Canalside is “unsuitable” to the Fifth Avenue area.

“Certainly, the Canalside Apartment developer has the right to propose any project they wish,” Mr. Ortega said. “And the Planning Commission and the City Council can give it due consideration. The mayor and City Council should reject the high-density, parking-deficient, out-of-scale apartment calamity. Common sense says Canalside Apartments are ill-conceived and rezoning is not warranted.”

City Council candidate Betty Janik called the project “fitting a size 10 foot into a size 5 shoe.”

“Canalside will add more parking issues to an already crowded area with no provisions for guest parking,” Ms. Janik said.

“It has the appearance of a short-term rental building. The STR problem is already of major concern to our residents and an additional burden to our police force.”

Ms. Janik requested delaying action until the new council — which includes a new mayor and three new council members — is seated in January.

The Committee for the Preservation of Old Town Scottsdale — the Political Action Committee behind overturning Southbridge Two earlier this year — also is opposed to Canalside.

“At a time when the COVID environment allows limited public input and discussion, this project is seeking a major up-zoning, which will result in high density and less parking. Moreover, this important matter is being presented to the council with minimal notice and with only a remote opportunity for impacted parties to be heard. The scope of what is being requested by the applicant as well as the expedited manner in which this project is being considered makes this case inherently suspect,” the Committee’s letter states, signed by Janet Wilson, Dewey Schade and Cindy and Michael Simonson.


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