SkySong’s developers are pushing to build apartments at the planned ASU research center in south Scottsdale, angering some residents who worry that dormitorylike structures would rise where offices were envisioned.
Residential buildings are not permitted under the Arizona State University Foundation’s lease with Scottsdale for the 42-acre site at the southeast corner of Scottsdale and McDowell roads.
Officials with the foundation have met recently with the City Council, asking it to lift that ban and allow development of 325 rental units, said Michele Irwin, a spokeswoman for the developers.
While several council members on Tuesday said they would support the change, some residents involved in SkySong’s planning said they we re blindsided by the proposal.
“We were not looking to turn it into an adjunct for either university people or the people who work there,” said Rita Saunders-Hawranek, member of a residents’ panel that crafted development standards for the center last year. “That was never discussed with us.”
SkySong, former site of the Los Arcos Mall, is to be a center where university research evolves into marketable products, attracting major companies that will pump life into the once-declining neighborhood.
Residences were banned in the lease to protect that vision.
“We wanted to make sure that the emphasis was on an innovation center, not a residential project,” said Ed Gawf, an assistant city manager. “I didn’t want it to become student housing or dormitories for ASU. And that is still something that we will make sure does not happen under any scenario.”
Gawf said no plan has been filed by the development team — a partnership between Chicago-based Higgins Development Partners and The Plaza Cos., a Valley firm.
Site plans on SkySong’s Web site show that a large section on the southeast corner now would become a residential development.
“I can’t say I love the idea. But I can’t say I hate the idea,” said Margaret Dunn, a member of the residents’ panel and owner of Ollie the Trolley, located across the street from SkySong.
The most troubling part of the proposal for some residents was that they were told the site would be dedicated to research and retail. Residential developments were expected to rise near the site, but not on it.
“More than anything else, this flies in the face of what we were told,” said Nancy Cantor, a south Scottsdale activist.
Irwin said she has only the most cursory details on the proposed residential component. A community outreach program will begin next week to gather public reaction.
Stephen Evans, a member of the foundation’s board, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. The foundation is an independent fundraising arm of ASU.
John Berry, the foundation’s zoning attorney, said Tuesday his client had not given him permission to comment.
The center’s development plans have already come under fire for the design of its first two buildings, each 157,000 square feet, that critics labeled “big boxes.”
Councilman Jim Lane said the residential proposal was pitched as a way for the foundation to pay back the city more quickly and ensure that SkySong succeeds.
“I’m not going to say, ‘Don’t change it,’ even if it crashes and burns,” he said.
However, Councilwoman Betty Drake, an urban planner, said the apartments would offer important aesthetic benefits, as they are intended to cover a parking structure.
“It’ll add some life to it,” Drake said.