Why all of us in Scottsdale can be thankful

November 23, 2020
23 Nov 2020

By Don Henninger

In the spirit of the season – and despite all the challenges the world is offering to us right now – there still are plenty of reasons why all of us in Scottsdale can be thankful.

Be thankful that:

–The election campaign for the City Council is over. Starting with the primary in August, it’s been a long haul. What began with five candidates for mayor and nine for council has ended with new faces in the mayor’s office and on three council seats. We hope everyone wishes the winners well and offers support so the “rookies” get up to speed quickly. The challenges ahead are as daunting as any the city has faced in many years.

–There are signs our new leaders are embracing a collaborative spirit. At least that seems to be the message as they get acquainted with each other and prepare to take office. That’s refreshing after a campaign that got bogged down in the mud from time to time. We hope that once in office they put a few early wins on the board (an anti-discrimination ordinance could be one) and set the tone for the way they’ll work together.

–There still are a few investors willing to launch projects in the city. The Scottsdale Collective downtown is one promising development that is working its way through the city bureaucracy. But the investor pipeline is drying up, and that’s not a good sign for the city’s economic health. We hope that our new city leaders remain open to considering worthy developments and send clear signals that the city is not returning to its “stops-dale” days.

–Scottdale Arts is surviving the pandemic crisis, and is one of the few, if not only, arts organizations in the Valley that has not had to lay off employees or make severe cutbacks. That’s testament to strong leadership and fiscal management. We hope that trend continues as the arts are a dynamic part of the city’s culture.

–We’ve made it through a fire season with little to no damage to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. We may be living on borrowed time, though. Fire officials now say it’s not a matter of “if” a fire strikes the Preserve but “when.” Let’s not take our good fortune for granted. We hope we all will support efforts to keep our preserve safe.

–We have a strong city manager in Jim Thompson. The city will need his steady leadership anchor as there are three important vacancies right now — city clerk, city treasurer, police chief. We hope good replacements are found soon for those jobs, critical to the ongoing operation of the city.

–There are a lot of big hearts in our city that are showing up to support worthy causes. Mercedes-Benz of Scottsdale is one. It has given $5,000 donations to five non-profit groups recently and plans to do more. Being on the board of Family Promise, I’ve seen many individuals and businesses support that homeless organization with in-kind supplies and cash. We hope that spirit of generosity continues at a time when our non-profit providers need it most.

–Over 86 percent of eligible voters in Scottsdale cast a ballot in this race. That’s an amazing voter turnout and suggests that the vast majority of residents are engaged and care about the future. We hope that spirit stays active and does not grow complacent in between our four-year election cycles.

As we move through the rest of this exhausting year of 2020, let’s remember we have a lot of reasons to be grateful, and we need to keep adding to the list.

Don Henninger, executive director of SCOTT, can be reached at

Call to Citizens: The 2035 Draft General Plan public hearing process begins 1Q21

November 19, 2020
19 Nov 2020

By Laraine Rodgers

Updating the current 2001 General Plan was top of mind for candidates and voters during the 2020 Scottsdale City Council election. As the new councilors and mayor take office in January, there will be a revised 2035 General Plan draft ready for review through an extensive public hearing process in 2021.

The 2020 General Plan Citizen Review Committee (CRC) was tasked with reviewing and revising the 2035 General Plan draft created by the 2014 General Plan Task Force. That group used the current 2001 General Plan with amendments as its base.

The purpose of the CRC is to review the content of the draft plan during public meetings and make suggestions for proposed adjustments. The CRC’s work will conclude with a final draft for review by the community, city boards and commissions, the Planning Commission and City Council. The council will send the approved plan to the November 2021 ballot for voter ratification.

Many concepts from the 2001 General Plan remain, according to Long Range Planning at the City of Scottsdale, though many new or enhanced concepts are included in the 2035 draft, including:

  • The foundation for the vision statement: Scottsdale’s Shared Vision and CityShape 2020.
  • The three-levels of planning: General Plan, Character Area Plan, and Neighborhood Plan established in CityShape 2020.
  • A substantial focus on community character and design.
  • The mix and distribution of land uses citywide.
  • Recognition that Scottsdale is primarily a residential, Sonoran Desert community and that the automobile will continue to be the primary form of transportation for the next 20 years.
  • Scottsdale’s leadership role in environmental stewardship and open space preservation.
  • The existing Growth Areas (Old Town, Airpark, and McDowell), but with specific rather than generalized boundaries.
  • The existing Character Areas.
  • Four major General Plan amendment criteria that focused on changes in land use, acreage, Character Area conformance, and water/sewer infrastructure.

The following are some aspects of the 2035 draft that are different from the 2001 General Plan and in particular to this update process:

  • New vision statement, community values, and organization of the overall plan.
  • Enhanced emphasis on tourism, fiscal sustainability, open space, community health, arts and culture and safety.
  • Enhanced focus on community character, such as transitions/buffers and contextual compatibility.
  • Shift from a primary focus on new development to revitalization, redevelopment and preservation. 
  • Three community-added elements: arts, culture & creative community; healthy Community; and tourism.
  • Revised Character Area Planning map showing existing/adopted plans and possible boundaries for future Character Areas.
  • Removal of ambiguous designations from the Land Use Map.
  • Expanded and more specific General Plan amendment criteria.
  • A list of implementation programs to carry out the plan and evaluate annual progress.

The fate of a new General Plan, the primary tool for guiding the future of the city, will soon be in the hands of the community, its residents, businesses and other stakeholders. Get ready to be a part of this critical public process!

Laraine Rodgers is a former chief information officer, long-time Scottsdale resident and civic leader and director of operations for SCOTT.

Never Accept Leadership Fatigue

October 30, 2020
30 Oct 2020

By Don Henninger

It’s fair to say that election fatigue has set in.

From the national level to the local city races, that theme is resonating from voters as Election Day closes in. Many of the candidates are hearing that from their constituents. Many of the candidates say they are feeling that, too.

This has been a long, grueling campaign. And while we can acknowledge election fatigue, one thing we should never accept is leadership fatigue. This election season will end in a few days. The need to continue developing leaders will not.

Focusing on Scottsdale, we say hats off to all the candidates who have persevered through this run. Residents owe them gratitude for sticking it out. No matter who you like or dislike, they all stepped up and served their city. It takes a lot of work and dedication and you have to admire them for their efforts.


In a few days, we’ll know the Scottsdale results and the city can move forward with a new mayor and likely three new faces on council. It’s a crossroads moment for the city as their leadership abilities will be tested. They will have their hands full. There is a lot of hard work ahead.

But in two short years, we’ll have another election with three council seats on the ballot, and before we even end this election cycle, people already are quietly discussing options for 2022.

It never ends, nor should efforts to develop leadership pipelines that prepare residents for future seats on the City Council or mayor’s office. In the business world, it’s good practice to put succession planning in place, and while it’s no different for cities, it can be more challenging.

One of the best ways to do this: the city has leadership opportunities on more than two dozen boards and commissions, and that hands-on experience with city issues and personnel is invaluable training for anyone aspiring for higher office. These panels – from human relations to planning; tourism to transportation; preserve to personnel – provide advice to city leaders that directly affects Scottsdale’s quality of life and future economic prosperity.

Any resident can apply for these positions. The City Council then considers applicants and makes appointments. Staggered terms mean there are openings on most all the boards and commissions throughout the year. You start the process with this standard application

A week from now, we’ll know who our new leaders in Scottsdale will be. They’ll take office in January. Even before they are sworn in, we’ll be talking about the next round. Like it or not, the 2022 election season starts on Nov. 4.

Don Henninger, executive director of SCOTT, can be reached at

Setting The Record Straight 10/27

October 22, 2020
22 Oct 2020
Setting the Record Straight image

Statement: Residents do not have a reason to use the General Plan.

Fact: The General Plan was developed for use by residents, neighborhood groups, developers and others.

  • Arizona state law requires each city to adopt a comprehensive long-range, legally amendable, General Plan to guide the physical development of their community; the Scottsdale City Charter also requires its adoption.
  • Residents or business owners can use the General Plan to understand city goals, get involved in community dialogue, verify that proposed neighborhood projects meet city goals, expand or start a business and purchase real estate.
  • Developers, architects or builders can use it to understand the city’s development priorities, align their design ideas with city goals, identify appropriate locations for development.
  • City departments and staff can use the it to protect neighborhood character, plan for capital improvements, attract tourists and align regulations.
  • The City Council can use it to understand the community’s long-term goals, align the budget with community goals, guide decision making.
  • There is time to get engaged with the revision to the General Plan. You can call in with comments or questions during the Draft 2035 Citizens’ Review Committee meetings during 2020 and be part of the continued and state-mandated six-month public process in the first half of 2021.

Setting The Record Straight 10/20

October 19, 2020
19 Oct 2020
Setting the Record Straight image

Statement: Citizens will not be able to provide input to the General Plan after 12/31/2020.

Fact: Citizen input is state-mandated through the in-process citizen’s review committee and subsequent phases through 2021.  

·      The Citizen Review Committee (CRC) began reviewing the draft 2035 General Plan in April 2020 for strengths, weaknesses and new content that is relevant today. 

·      The content to be discussed is released the week before each CRC’s meeting; see here for the schedule through 2020.

·      State statutes requiring public participation will be followed in all steps throughout the process.

·      Citizens may send in comments online prior to the meeting and as of Oct. 12 are able to call in during the meeting.

·      The final 2035 draft plan will make its way through a six-month state required public hearing process that includes extensive public involvement along with multiple Planning Commission and City Council hearings. 

·      The General Plan is expected to go before the City Council for adoption in June 2021.

·      Per state statute, once the City Council adopts it, the General Plan must be placed on the next regular ballot to be ratified by the voters.

·      Should City Council adopt the Plan in June 2021, the next regular ballot would be November 2021.

Moving Past the “Stopsdale” Reputation

October 15, 2020
15 Oct 2020

By Don Henninger

A note and some perspective for voters to consider in this year’s Scottsdale elections, and the one likely to come up next November, too.

Nearly two decades ago, Scottsdale community leaders received a road map that would chart a course for a sustainable robust future for the city. They recognized that, like all things, cities must evolve and adapt, and even when you are on top of the heap, you have to work hard to stay there.

That was visionary thinking. Scottsdale’s reputation was stellar; its star was shining bright. But they knew the city needed direction and they commissioned a report from the Morrison Institute at ASU to do so. It came back with some good news:

“From the 1950s onward, Scottsdale combined upscale resorts, an outstanding arts and culture scene, and a spectacular natural setting to create a cachet that few other cities anywhere in the nation could match.”

And then it included a strong dose of reality:

“The shelf life of great places is getting shorter … The ingredients of a successful ‘quality’ place are changing. Surrounding towns are beginning to develop a cachet. Greater Phoenix has become a big and important metropolitan area in which all communities must work together to succeed. And, for the first time ever, Scottsdale is beginning to run out of land.”

Welcome to Scottsdale sign

Another group of community and civic leaders did some follow up work seven years later in 2010 to build a plan for economic growth, aligned with the points brought up by the Morrison report.

There were five themes:

• How can Scottsdale retain and enhance its quality of place?

• How can the city shape its niche in a new era?

• How can the “three Scottsdales” work together?

• How can Scottsdale play with “360-degree” vision in collaboration with the region?

• How will “can-do” Scottsdale get past the “Stopsdale” reputation?

The themes are as relevant today – perhaps even more so – as they were then. Which is a nice way of saying there is room for improvement on just about all of them.

Some observers would suggest that residents can address many of those important themes right now, as there are elections coming up in the next two Novembers that could provide the leadership and the action plan needed to make progress on them.

This November, voters will be selecting a new mayor, ending a 12-year run by Jim Lane, as well as filling three seats on City Council. Which candidates for those jobs are best positioned to lead the efforts addressed by the Morrison report’s themes?

And then in November 2021 the long-overdue General Plan is expected to be delivered for residents to approve. Planning for that is well under way. A citizen review committee is on track to deliver the plan this year. After an extensive citizen review cycle, it goes to the City Council for approval and then referral to the ballot for voters to decide. The General Plan, which is in effect a visioning tool, could – and should – address many of the issues brought out in the Morrison report.

The Morrison report will not remain relevant for another 20 years. It may not make it past the next 20 months without action.

Residents can jump start things now by voting for leaders with the fortitude and skills to move the city forward and then a plan that gives them a road map to follow.

It’s not too late. But the clock is ticking.

Don Henninger, executive director of SCOTT, can be reached at

Setting The Record Straight 10/15

October 14, 2020
14 Oct 2020
Setting the Record Straight image

Statement: It’s easy for developers to get their projects approved in Scottsdale.
Fact: Scottsdale has established rigorous standards for design and development projects:

  • Scottsdale’s design and architectural guidelines include the Design Standards and Policy Manual (DSPM) developed by local architects, the city, community members and other stakeholders and the Citywide Design Standards Overview
  • To submit a new proposal, the developer must complete the Development Application Checklist, and provide required documents.
  • Applicants need to conform with Scottsdale’s revised code including the zoning ordinance, the city’s design standards and other stipulations. The process includes a series of reviews with the city, community members and other stakeholders.
  • After the application has met the checklist’s criteria, the documents go to the Development Review Board (DRB) at a public meeting to review, discuss and determine if all requirements were met.
  • If criteria are met, the DRB recommends the application go forward to the Planning Commission for additional reviews before being sent to City Council.

Setting The Record Straight 10/13

October 12, 2020
12 Oct 2020

Statement: It’s too late to register to vote for the Nov. 3 General Election.

Fact:  You have until Thursday, October 15 to register. 

·      A Federal appeals court has cut off an extension for Arizona’s voter registration deadline.

·      If a voter registered between October 5, the original deadline, and October 15, the current deadline, their registration will be honored.-  As there may be additional appeals, those planning to register to vote beyond October 15 need to check the Maricopa County Recorder’s election site.

·      Ballots were mailed out starting October 7 ballots; if you plan to mail-in your ballot, the last day to do so is October 27.

·      Voting Centers began opening for vote in person and also to drop your completed ballot:

.   Open: Scottsdale Center, 8029 E. Roosevelt St—voting and mail in. Dates and hours

.   Open: Scottsdale City Hall–drop your mail-in ballot only. Dates and hours

.   Additional Voting Center locations in Scottsdale to open during October. Dates and hours here.

.   Ballots from Vote Centers and designated drop boxes are delivered daily to the recorder’s office.

·      There are no assigned voting locations. Choose any location in the county that works with your schedule. Additionally, Voting Centers are open from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Election Day.

Setting The Record Straight 10/06

October 6, 2020
06 Oct 2020

Statement: Scottsdale City Council members are elected by district.
Fact: Scottsdale elects City Council members at-large; each serves the entire city.

  • Cities elect their local representatives either at-large, by geographical district or a mixture of both.
  • Most cities of Scottsdale’s size use a district or a mixture of district and at-large to elect their local representatives.
  • After two inconclusive studies in the 80s and 90s, a district advisory task force was appointed in 2003 to complete an analysis and recommend a course of action.
  • Factors considered included Scottsdale’s growing population, diverse geography, costs of campaigning and new challenges facing the city.
  • Twelve of the 14 members recommended six district representatives plus the mayor at large that was approved by council but failed at the ballot box, with 39 percent of voters for it and 61 percent against.
  • Re-looking at districting is a part of each 2020 mayoral candidate’s platform.

Scottsdale Needs More Thinkers and Doers

October 2, 2020
02 Oct 2020

by Don Henninger

What do Scottsdale residents want from their future leaders?

Do they expect them to sustain the city’s high property values and low tax rates?

To continue to provide unparalleled city services?

Create a thriving, active year-round downtown?

To ensure its McDowell Sonoran Preserve will be protected in perpetuity? 

Maintain lots of open spaces?

The current roster of candidates for mayor and City Council agree those are worthy pursuits.

That’s why we live and do business here. Because the city does well on most of them, polls show the majority of residents think things are heading in the right direction.

But how do you foot the bill for all those desired attributes moving forward? The simple answer – perhaps the only one – is to encourage business investment in the city.

That’s the economic reality and that’s where the candidates start to separate. Any pro-business stance brings out the slow- or no-growth advocates who will be quick to complain but then come up short on ideas for how they see the city financing its prosperity.

The economic reality is this: Continued private sector investment in the city – paired with a healthy tourism industry – is how to maintain – to pay for – the quality of life that residents now expect and often take for granted.

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve encompasses one-quarter of the city’s land mass. And the open spaces so treasured in the north mean that economic activity must be robust in other select areas of the city.

The city has identified three major hubs for economic activity: the McDowell Road corridor, the area that surrounds the Airpark and downtown.

Much of the attention has been downtown, which is underused as a place to work, live and generate year-round activity. It’s often confused with Historic Old Town, a six-acre span that can easily be preserved while the rest of downtown’s two square miles is modernized.

City leaders should not be shy in recruiting businesses to invest in redevelopment projects downtown, while ensuring that they follow the zoning regulations and character area ordinances. Projects that propose height and density, carefully planned and located where they make sense – in literally 1 percent of the city’s area and far from the open spaces in the north – will not erode the city’s heritage. It will enable the city to build on its past and preserve its quality of life attributes as it continues to evolve into the future.

Scottsdale does not need decision makers who lead with “no.” The city is establishing a reputation that discourages quality investors from proposing projects here, redirecting them to neighboring cities. That’s fine for some projects. But Scottsdale should be getting the cream of the crop and those opportunities will evaporate if city leaders don’t view them with open minds.

Scottsdale is not a bedroom community – 150,000 non-residents come to the city daily to work. Scottsdale is a “real” city and its downtown, Airpark and McDowell Road areas should reflect it. Leaders can protect “Historic Old Town” and be visionary about the rest of the city.

In the near term, city leaders will need a plan to recover from the COVID pandemic – in particular, how to revive the tourism and hospitality industries so they can continue to generate the sales tax revenue that pays for more than half of the city’s budget. That’s a no-brainer.

The longer term is a tough call, too, and it will take leaders who understand and embrace the financial realities of what it will take to keep the city prosperous. The city needs more thinkers and doers and fewer naysayers.

Don Henninger, executive director of SCOTT, can be reached at

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