Scottsdale’s legacy of planning

January 13, 2021
13 Jan 2021

General Plan Series #1

By Don Hadder, Sr.

 As the process moves forward to seek community acceptance of an updated General Plan, it is important to recognize the rich and complex legacy of General Plans in Scottsdale. This is a unique story and heritage in Arizona. It is also has created the setting each of us enjoys and depends on as we live, work, play and learn in Scottsdale.

The beginnings of general planning in Scottsdale were not notable. In 1961 the Maricopa County Planning and Zoning Department came out with Chapter 1 of “A Comprehensive Plan for Scottsdale, Arizona.” It included an economic and physical review of the Scottsdale area through 1960 and a “Future General Land Use Plan.” It had seven land use categories and covered what were unincorporated areas that were later annexed by Phoenix. At the time Scottsdale had no planning staff, so this was done as a service to the fledgling but rapidly growing Town of Scottsdale.

A year later a second chapter subtitled “Major Streets, Highways, and Parking” was prepared.  This analyzed existing and projected traffic conditions and included alternate highway and street plans, street cross sections and a “Suggested Central Business District Plan of Development.” These plans were used to guide decisions by the county and to a degree those by the new City of Scottsdale, but there is no indication the city ever adopted these plans.

In 1964, the City Council retained the planning firm of Eisner and Associates to create a “Comprehensive General Plan” for the city. Up to this time, most plans prepared for cities focused on two components: land use and transportation. The new plan as outlined by the consultant and envisioned by the city would include a broad range of components that would guide the city in all of its various aspects. 

For a city that essentially had no parks, no municipal water system, had relied on the county for road construction and did not have a clear economic foundation, this was a great hope.  Through the process of creating this plan, an Arizona Town Hall session was held in 1966 to develop citizen-based goals and aspirations for the community. Finally, in July 1967 the Comprehensive General Plan for Scottsdale was adopted. To assure this plan had standing, provisions were added in November 1967 to the City Charter establishing the General Plan as a function of the city. This was the first comprehensive plan adopted by any city in Arizona and later became a guide to the creation of state statutes enabling general plans for all cities and towns.

Photo: Scottsdale Historical Society

Soon, however, it became apparent to the City Council, Planning Commission and planning staff that it was not keeping up with the dynamics of a rapidly growing and changing community. A major Scottsdale Town Enrichment Program (STEP) community involvement gathering was held in late 1969 and early 1970 in order to continue to identify the goals and aspirations of the community.

This led to the city hiring another consultant, Wilsey and Ham, to prepare an update to the General Plan. They retained the Brookings Institute to conduct another public outreach visioning program, which built on the earlier Town Hall and STEP efforts. The city over time decided that the consultant was not being responsive and set out to establish an updated General Plan using internal staff resources. This resulted in a parallel course of south (south of Indian Bend Road) and north portions of the General Plan to be developed, reviewed and adopted as one plan in July 1974.  Unfortunately, given the way this plan was prepared, there is no remnant available for review.

The next key component of the General Plan was the NorthEast Area Plan (NEAP) that was adopted in the fall of 1976. This was the first comprehensive general plan prepared by city staff. It included significant environmental analysis, transportation modeling, water resources analysis and economic forecasting. It also established ongoing city policies such as mountain preservation, protection of washes and other desert areas, scenic corridors, collocated parks and schools, neighborhoods oriented around shopping centers and community service centers, and many other planning concepts. It also became the map-oriented model of general planning that would prevail for the next 25 years.

Since the city-wide general plans had become a series of separate individual function plans, the city reformatted the General Plan into a consolidated format in 1980-81. The map approach was used to guide the physical direction and character of the rapid growth continuing to occur in Scottsdale. This plan base soon became expanded when the city essentially doubled in area from 1981 to 1984. Through the Scottsdale and Tonto Foothills mega-area plans, the city’s General Plan was expanded to cover the roughly 184-square-mile area of the city.

Throughout this “big picture” process, a number of other planning activities were conducted.  To respond to growth hot-spots, several area studies were prepared. Some were fully adopted as parts of the General Plan, while others served as unofficial guides for development activity.  In addition to these studies, the city created a series of infrastructure “Master Plans” that, although not adopted into the plan, became critical elements of evaluation and planning to assure the General Plan was viable and reasonable. Among these were plans for parks, water systems, sewer systems, transportation components and flood control.

The “Scottsdale Visioning” and “CityShape 2020” citizen involvement programs of the early to mid-1990s were intended to build on the earlier STEP activities and consider the changing future, economic conditions and evolving physical conditions of the community. These efforts created vision statements and guiding principles. In response to this, the city produced an updated General Plan in the late 1990s that re-introduced the many policies and goals that were guiding the community but not spelled clearly in a document. Combined with the State Growing Smarter Act, the General Plan went through a full review process in 2000-01 that led to the currently adopted General Plan.

Key questions for the General Plan

  • Have we recognized those parts of our city that likely will not change in the foreseeable future?
  • Have we accurately considered those parts of the community that need improvement, will be subject to change or are likely no longer going to be viable or desired?
  • Have we recognized all the differing ages, lifestyles, economic engagements, trends in business activity, regional trends, changes in adjacent communities, etc. that will impact how and where our city functions?
  • Have we considered what we need to do to maintain and sustain what we already have and enjoy in our city?
  • How are we assured that the plan reflects and respects the needs and aspirations of all residents?
  • And most important, what kind of community do we want to grow into in the future?  A community that stands still ultimately fails – our city could be so much more than what it is.

Finding Common Ground in the New Year

December 20, 2020
20 Dec 2020

By Don Henninger

As we wind down a year that we’d just as soon forget, let’s start thinking about what we can do to make 2021 one that we’ll want to remember.

Along those lines, here are a few stocking stuffers to help us greet 2021.

–I hope more citizens stay involved in civic and government affairs. The voter turnout last November was remarkably high in Scottsdale, over 85 percent. That shows that residents are willing to engage in their city on important issues. Too many people in our city are complacent. Their votes were important but their voices in between elections are, too.

–I hope that people who do nothing but criticize things – especially those who do it anonymously – realize they do more harm than good. If you have a complaint, air it and let us know who you are so we can work on it together. That may take a little courage, a trait that some have yet to demonstrate.

–I hope our new City Council finds more things that members can agree on, rather than things to fight over. At least that would be a good way to get started when our new mayor and three councilors take office Jan. 12.

A recent article in the New York Times made the point:

Author Heidi Larson wrote: “When confronted with a different view, try to find something you can agree on. You don’t have to change your views. Just be open to the fact that others have theirs, too. It may sound counterintuitive. But it’s the only place to start.”

That’s a path to progress. And it’s one we all should take to heart.

–I hope we appreciate the unique upside of living in Scottsdale: among the lowest taxes and highest property values of any city in the Valley along with the highest level of services and amenities. The reason for that: a vibrant and diverse economy. Growing the city’s economic base is the only way we’ll get to continue enjoying those advantages.

–Tourism is a big reason for that. And the year will not get off to a fast start, as most of the major events in the first quarter have either been postponed or will be held without fans – which means without visitors. The tourism sector will get healthy again – just as we all will after the COVID virus is no longer a threat. But it reaffirms why a diverse economy is important to sustaining our lifestyle.

–I hope we show more appreciation for our first responders in the year ahead. Our police force is among the best but it took some strong criticism last spring. Our firefighters are top of the line. Don’t take then for granted. Our health care workers are unsung heroes, too. A thank you to them from time to time will go a long way.

–Many of our small business owners are unsung heroes, too. Many of them rely on tourism. With a slow first quarter virtually assured, the year ahead looks challenging. Perhaps the city can find more ways to give them a break as 2021 begins. Why not pull together a small group of them to identify ways the city might help them survive a slow start?

–I hope that you all have a safe and healthy holiday season and find new ways to connect with friends and families while we continue the journey to end the COVID-19 nightmare.

Before you know it, a new year will be here. A fresh start. Let’s find more common ground in the year ahead and work just as hard on the things we agree on as we have on the things that have divided us.

Happy Holidays!

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

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.

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