Taller Buildings

Dear Friends…


I’m frequently asked my thoughts about high-rise buildings – usually apartments – springing up in Scottsdale.  I often make the observation taller, denser housing projects are actually the fulfillment of a vision – it’s just not a vision shared by many Scottsdale citizens!


Some defend the vision, arguing these apartments provide a diversity of housing to attract young professionals.  The positive consequences, they argue further, will be a revitalization of our urban center and a lowering of the average age of Scottsdale citizens (though the benefit of that is less obvious.)


But, when we encourage taller, denser housing developments, there are often two other consequences and neither of them is good. The first is the effect these developments may have on tourism.


Sometimes, a multi-housing unit incorporates such distinctive architecture and blends so naturally with the City’s horizon, it actually contributes to the City’s iconic image and our attractiveness to tourists. Optima Camel View Village (pictured to the left) is a case in paint. That’s rare!


More often, when we permit non-descript housing units to invade our open space and block our views, we begin to look more and more like “anywhere USA.” We diminish the attraction of our city to tourists. In fact, we lose the distinctive character that many of us moved here to enjoy.


The second reality is that taller, denser housing developments often alter the City’s demographics in ways that impose real and adverse economic consequences on current citizens. Bear with me on the math:


The City spends an average of about $1,000 per citizen for services like police and fire protection, parks and recreation, public libraries, and so on. (The General Fund budget is about $225 million and there are about 225,000 residents – that’s what makes the math so easy!) Fortunately, current citizens and

businesses pay a lot less than $1,000 – only about $800 – because the rest is from sales taxes paid by tourists. That’s one of the good things about tourism; one of several reasons why we need to protect this primary industry!


Now, suppose we pursue the vision of building taller, denser housing units. Each new resident will expect the same $1,000 worth of services, but it’s unlikely the City will collect an additional $1,000 of new revenues to pay for his or her services. The property taxes and the sales tax on rent paid by these residents is commonly less than the average paid by our current citizens. Furthermore, adding new residents won’t attract more new tourists to spend money and subsidize the cost of government services – in fact, more than likely, it will have the opposite effect.


So, here’s the dilemma: if new residents demand the same level of services as existing residents, but for a variety of reasons, don’t generate – directly or indirectly – the City revenues to pay for those services, a burden of subsidy falls to everyone else.  For current citizens, it may mean higher taxes; it might mean lower levels of service.  Either way, the budget must balance!


Councilmembers are elected to pursue the visions of current citizens and protect the livability of their community.  With every project brought to Council, I ask the simple question, “What does this do for my client – the citizens of Scottsdale?”  Sometimes, the developer can answer the question in a very satisfying way; other times not.


Council, citizens and developers must work together to create projects that protect and enhance our special place – Scottsdale. This is what I have done and commit to do in a second term.  I ask for your support in November’s Council election.