The dawning of a new era may be brewing for SmokeTree Resort, but first, adequate parking must be meticulously evaluated.
The Paradise Valley Planning Commission is studying the proposed redevelopment of SmokeTree Resort, 7101 E. Lincoln Drive, this summer, looking at everything from lighting to building heights.
This isn’t the first time SmokeTree Resort has undergone municipal scrutiny hoping to redevelopment the legacy property, which dates back to the 1960s.
SmokeTree initially submitted plans for its redevelopment more than a year ago, before receiving denial from the Planning Commission majority.
Owners Gentree LLC have amended its plans for the property dating to 1954 and re-submitted a tapered down request.
Plans no longer allow for-sale properties, unit count was cut to 122 hotel rooms, removing balconies from perimeter buildings and capping building height at 36 feet.
The project includes:
The total cost of the resort revitalization will be approximately $60 million, officials say.
On Aug. 4, the Planning Commission’s sole agenda item was to discuss SmokeTree’s major special-use permit amendment request, focusing on parking, landscaping, utilities, lighting and signage.
Much of the evening’s discussion focused on parking, with input provided from three experts hired by the applicant or the town.
Commissioners asked several questions about the proposed amount of parking spaces, curious how large events would be handled, the impact of ride-sharing, and ensuring they find the right balance of available parking.
If the resort books a large event in its ballroom, for example, how would those needs be met with that of hotel rooms and the restaurant with 225 total parking spaces available.
“At the end of the day, all of these things will come down to a business decision as to whether we can accommodate that business. There is no right vested to the general public to have an event on our site,” Gentree owner Taylor Robinson said of controlling traffic.
“Our requirements, not only for parking but for sound, staffing, that they meet all of the standards we have set in place for the SmokeTree Resort, and if they don’t comply with that, they won’t be allowed to use the site.”
Several meetings were reportedly held with the applicant, town staff, and traffic engineering firms CivTech and Kimley-Horn to clarify the intended operation of the resort ancillary spaces, internal capture rates and updating site plans.
Per studies provided by CivTech and Walker Consultants, the applicant states the following needs:
The spaces at neighboring Lincoln Medical Center would be available 5:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., seven days a week, with a month-to-month agreement and no employee parking allowed.
The applicant also provided a parking management plan, which is under review by the town staff. The plan includes a transition from self-parking to valet parking, as well as parking during large events.
For large events, the Lincoln Plaza Medical Center parking may be used, if available, and employees may be required to use ride-sharing services, the plan states.
The Planning Commission will discuss SmokeTree Resort’s amendment request again on Tuesday, Aug. 18.
Land use attorney Paul E. Gilbert presented an update on behalf of SmokeTree Resort, providing new or requested information since the group’s last meeting in July.
“I am very ecstatic and excited to announce that the town’s consultant on parking, Kimley-Horn and SmokeTree’s two consultants on parking, CivTech and Walker Consultants, have both mutually and jointly concluded that the site plan provides adequate, indeed excess parking, on site to meet peak demand,”
“That is something we have been working on for a considerable period of time. We were encouraged by the City Council to have the consultants work closely to see if they couldn’t work things out.”
Peak parking demands were identified by the three consultants to range from 178 spaces to 199 parking spaces, depending on time of the week.
Mr. Gilbert says CivTech concluded peak weekday demand for parking is 187 spaces, at 6 p.m. in March; and the peak weekend demand for 8 p.m. in March is 178 spaces.
“Kimley-Horn agrees that these peak demands are covered by the valet plan,” Mr. Gilbert said, noting they are providing 199 spaces.
“I hope you will forgive my enthusiasm, but this is a great moment for all of us. It’s a huge step and resolves one of the last outstanding issues.”
Mr. Gilbert says a parking agreement with the adjacent medical plaza is unnecessary, but they do have it if necessary.
Further, Mr. Gilbert says the parking analysis shows the resort does not create a negative impact on traffic safety, parking and circulation.
The Planning Commission had several questions on the amount of parking spaces reportedly needed.
“With a 4,000-square-foot ballroom, you could have as much as 200 people attending a banquet function. You have an estimated parking demand of 48,” Commissioner James Rose said, asking how the consultants arrived at the number.
Dawn Cartier of CivTech says in the parking industry, they design their needs much like a mall: you don’t build the parking lot for the Christmas rush.
“What we do look at, especially as it comes to resorts with all the number of uses, the number of people that might be there at this function who are also staying in the resort already,” Ms. Cartier said, noting a draft parking plan will feature more specifics.
“None of us want to provide too much parking because we understand that’s equally detrimental as not enough parking. We want to make sure the town feels comfortable that if there’s a 200-person event, and not a single one of those people is staying as a guest of the resort, that SmokeTree knows when to transition to the valet plan, and know exactly how many spaces they’ll need on-site or off-site.”
Mr. Rose says he isn’t convinced they’re “building a church for Easter Sunday,” pointing out how many staff is needed to run the resort.
Ms. Cartier says some ideas have been discussed that could alleviate some of this issue, such as offering ride-share vouchers to employees.
“If we had an event such as that, 200 people with no one staying at the resort — to voucher all of the employees so they would not have parking at all on the site, they would use Uber or Lyft paid for by SmokeTree,” Ms. Cartier explained, saying it frees up 35 spaces.
Mr. Rose pointed out the financial reality of that plan: the resort, paying $30 or $40 for people to come to work.
His second hypothetical scenario was a wedding at the resort, where a line of vehicles are waiting to get into the resort.
“They’re backed up on Quail Run, and you’ve run out of parking spots, how are you going to get the cars over to the Lincoln Medical center? You’ll have to go across the whole property, and then the valet will have to get back to park other cars,” he said. “It seems like it could be a challenge.”
Ms. Cartier says the resort will be able to plan ahead and understand how their peak rushes work.
Resort owner Taylor Robinson jumped in, providing his point of view.
“The scale of the site, you know when we’re looking at these drawings, it’s important to keep in mind the scale,” he said. “The distance from the valet main entrance off of Quail Run is roughly 500 feet, and so for an experienced valet to make it from the off-site spot back to the valet stand, should take no more than a minute for their return.”
Following a mapped out route on screen which the valet would follow to run through the resort on their way back to the valet stand, Mr. Rose says he understands, but believes the plan is ambitious.
Next, Commissioner Thomas Campbell asked about the potential of a third eastbound lane on Lincoln Drive.
Mr. Campbell asked for a clarification from staff regarding that topic, and the impact on parking.
“It’s just a little contingency I’d like to get out there in the ether here: is there any plan at all — [Maricopa Association of Governments] or anyone — to make Lincoln six lanes wide?” Mr. Campbell asked.
Town Engineer Paul Mood says there is no plan for that to happen at this time.
“I believe we discussed it at the last meeting as well, not that it couldn’t be done, but it would be difficult because we already have the development agreement with Lincoln Medical to the east, so you would be going through an acquisition process to get that right of way as well,” Mr. Mood explained.
Mr. Campbell said he’s not encouraging that, but wondered if there was any background on the idea.
Mr. Gilbert said in order for Lincoln Drive to be expanded, it would effect other properties on the road, such as AJ’s grocery store and residential lots.
“The likelihood of three lanes on Lincoln is very, very remote in my judgment,” Mr. Gilbert said.
Mr. Campbell noted, “if you build it they will come” mentality — stating widening the road would bring more traffic.
“I’m just playing devils advocate,” Mr. Campbell said.
“It sounds like it’s not in any kind of planned possibility at all.”