Scottsdale residents, here are stories that will affect your wallet, your neighborhood and your quality of life this year.
2006 opens today with big Scottsdale-area stories ready to unfold. Downtown Scottsdale, long regarded as a place to visit, will attract thousands of permanent residents poised to settle into urban and trendy midrise buildings. Scottsdale educators will push voters to approve a sixth high school, and cameras along Loop 101 will begin photographing speeding motorists. A referendum drive will keep topless bars in the news. And the first buildings at the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center will rise. Here are previews of 10 stories that will be among the biggest in the months ahead.
1. DOWNTOWN URBANIZATION
Downtown Scottsdale could be home to an additional 7,000 people during the next four years. City officials hope those residents are the final ingredient needed to make downtown a vibrant and, yes, urban place. "This has been thought about and planned for, really, 20 years. It's just all starting to come to fruition," said Gary Roe, formerly Scottsdale's revitalization director who now works in the private sector. At least two high-end condominium projects — Main Street Plaza and the Hotel Valley Ho condos — are set to open downtown this year, placing densely packed residences next door to the area’s stores, galleries and restaurants.
2. LOOP 101 SPEED CAMERAS
Motorists who speed on Loop 101 will have to start watching for cameras as well as patrol cars later this month. Scottsdale is set to launch a nine-month photo enforcement trial on an eight-mile stretch of the freeway between the Scottsdale Road and 90th Street exits. If the trial, set to launch Jan. 22, proves successful at safely slowing Loop 101 drivers, it could be used as a model for freeways around the state.
3. SIXTH HIGH SCHOOL
Scottsdale residents will vote to build a sixth high school in November — if Superintendent John Baracy has his way. Scottsdale Unified School District officials hope this year's bond election ends better than the last, when voters rejected a $150 million bond issue for a new high school in 2001. The idea of a sixth high school, located near DC Ranch, first surfaced in the mid-1990s and returned to center stage in 2005 as Baracy argued the district has enough students to support a campus in Scottsdale's northern stretches.
4. BAR REFERENDUM
Scottsdale voters could be weighing in this year on the legality of lap dances. For more than 30 years, Babe's Cabaret has been a topless bar on Scottsdale Road. It has changed owners and changed names with little notice. And then Jenna Jameson showed up. The porn mogul purchased a quarter-share of the strip club last summer, and public outcry from neighborhood activists and elected officials began. In December, the City Council approved an overhaul of Scottsdale’s Sexually Oriented Business Ordinance. Jameson’s attorneys have threatened to sue. Todd Borowsky, Skin’s owner, has organized a referendum drive to force a public vote on the tighter regulations.
5. ASU SCOTTSDALE INNOVATION CENTER
The much-debated and long-awaited revitalization the former Los Arcos mall site is set to begin with construction this year of the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center. The $300 million project will mix research and retail elements on a 37-acre parcel on the southeast corner of Scottsdale and McDowell roads. The city is scheduled to start construction on supporting infrastructure, such as utility lines and streets, in January.
6. LOOP 101 GROWTH
Scottsdale residents will have to decide whether to reconsider mandates against vertical development along the city’s edges. Several tall buildings are being proposed and built along Loop 101, just outside the city limits. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is developing office buildings at Scottsdale’s eastern edge and Phoenix has green-lighted a regional shopping center on Scottsdale’s western edge. Salt River members voted in December to increase building heights from 40 feet high to 80 feet, allowing construction of six-story buildings along the freeway.
7. STATE LAND
More than 14,000 acres targeted for expansion of Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve and 18,000 acres near the Superstition Mountains east of Mesa might be on their way to becoming protected open spaces. That's if a proposal to reform the state trust land system gets to the November ballot and passes. The Conserving Arizona's Future initiative calls for 690,000 of the 9.2 million acres of state trust land throughout the state to be designated for preservation. It would immediately set some of that land as off-limits to development and make it more feasible for municipalities and conservation groups to buy and protect the open tracts. Supporters say the reform package would enable the trust to provide more long-term value for the public schools that benefit from sales of state land. They also claim it would offer cities and counties more control over growth. However, almost 184,000 registered voters have to sign petitions by July 6 to give the initiative a chance.
8. UNORGANIZED TERRITORIES
A new law will force residents who live in some neighborhoods outside municipal school districts to join one or form their own. In these areas, known as unorganized territories, residents pay some school taxes to Maricopa County, but contribute considerably less cash to public education than homeowners who reside in school districts. Nearly 75 percent of the students who live in these areas attend Cave Creek, Paradise Valley, Fountain Hills or Scottsdale unified school districts. 9. GOOGLE SIZES UP SCOTTSDALE Google is expected to open an engineering and operations center in the Valley by the end of 2006 — but it's anybody's guess which city the Internet giant will call home. With much fanfare in October, the state announced it landed Google. Since then, speculation has grown over where the company and its 600 high-tech jobs will land. Cities in the running include Phoenix, Tempe, Chandler, Scottsdale and Mesa. Insiders put downtown Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale on the short list. Google officials insist they are surprised by all the hubbub over their move.
9.) FOUNTAIN HILLS GROWS UP
A small town of 23,000, Fountain Hills enters 2006 with an ambitious four-year strategic plan. Surveys indicate those residents prefer improving conditions for tourists, rather than attempting to use the town's water feature to attract them. "The key is to annex available state trust land," said Mayor Wally Nichols. "We want it to be developed and look like Fountain Hills and be Fountain Hills."