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.
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.
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