Scarp: Scottsdale focused too much on aesthetics - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Scarp: Scottsdale focused too much on aesthetics

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Posted: Saturday, July 26, 2008 8:22 pm | Updated: 11:53 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Chandler is home to a shell of an incomplete multistory building that daily reminds Loop 101 drivers that we're in tough times. Mesa spent tens of millions of dollars on an arts center that has yet to attract anything in the way of serious office or retail development in its downtown.

In Scottsdale, however, there is no shortage of plans for such structures that officials of these other East Valley cities would crawl on their hands and knees over broken glass to have.

And yet, at the Tribune's candidates forum Tuesday, mayoral hopefuls discussed the idea of, well, taller buildings only being allowed at Scottsdale Airpark.

You know, where airplanes take off and land.

You might think that after 40 years of living there I'd be more tolerant of aesthetics as Scottsdale's supreme basis for zoning decisions, trumping common sense (really, airplanes) and respect for private property rights.

But I'm not, and for one very good reason: Whether something is attractive is seldom a thing to be decided democratically - at least not with any consistent results.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not calling for Scottsdale to be like Houston, where zoning appears to be nonexistent (and might have been for some time during its J.R. Ewing-like boom years), which resulted in a frightening patchwork of single-family homes right up against tall buildings. And I'll certainly stipulate to reasonable rules about keeping foliage trimmed, appliances off the front porch, applying fresh paint and the like.

But in Scottsdale, residents and many elected officials believe that it's their place to tell you, in deep detail, how your building should look.

Illustrating this point was the City Council's recent decision to allow the renovation of a strip center so long as the developer - which never showed any interest in the idea - promised not to include any payday loan store in it.

You may say, so what, I don't like payday loan stores. But this is not a list that shrinks.

Next up could well be a bowling alley, or a thrift store, or a gas station, or just about anything else that someone or group thinks is an affront to their property values.

They forget that the best way to improve your property values is to keep your own property improved and not be overly concerned with your neighbor's.

Mayor Mary Manross won Tuesday's forum because her opponent, Councilman Jim Lane, was unable to conclusively show how any of her shortcomings have negatively affected the lifestyles of most Scottsdale residents. Lane has valid criticisms of how City Hall operates, but they so far haven't translated into bread-and-butter issues.

That's important. Scottsdale folks seldom have to deal with the more serious issues other cities' residents must, so lifestyle is what they often base their votes upon.

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