An international hotelier has hired a Scottsdale city councilwoman and a former mayor of Paradise Valley to work on plans for a Ritz-Carlton resort on a highprofile piece of property straddling the Scottsdale-Paradise Valley border.
Councilwoman Betty Drake, a planning consultant, and ex-Paradise Valley Mayor Ed Lowry, a real estate attorney, are working for Marriott International on early plans to develop a first-class resort sprawling over 120 acres on the communities’ border. Marriott International owns the Ritz-Carlton flag.
The project would be bounded by Scottsdale Road, Lincoln Drive, Mockingbird Lane and Indian Bend Road. It is being described as a luxury Arizona inn, with one- and two-story casitas.
Marriott International has long been interested in developing or buying the site, which is one of the last remaining vacant parcels in the area and affords unobstructed views of Mummy Mountain while being near Scottsdale amenities.
Lowry opted not to run for public office last year, while Drake was elected in March to her first term as a councilwoman.
She has met at least once with Paradise Valley, in which she represented Marriott as the company’s site planner. Drake said some Scottsdale officials are aware of her employ- ment. But Drake has not yet consulted with the city attorney because the company has not filed development plans with either municipality, Drake said.
"They sought me out so I said, ‘I will be involved only if I can have a substantive role.’ I’m not going to work with someone that wants to use my reputation or my political goodwill to assist their project," she said. "Believe me. I asked them a lot of questions before I took this on. I’ve got a good reputation in this field. It’s a high-quality project. I don’t think there is going to be any kind of major controversy."
Drake, who has been doing planning work in the Valley since 1971, said she would declare a conflict of interest and recuse herself from voting on the project should it come before the council. Drake worked on other large hotel projects in the Valley, such as the Boulders and Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, long before she was elected to public office.
Drake said she had discussed the issue with Mayor Mary Manross, but Manross told the Tribune she only heard secondhand about Drake’s involvement. Nevertheless, Drake should be allowed to make a living as long as she recuses herself from the planning process, the mayor said.
"That’s her job and the law allows her to have that employment and still be a member of the council," Manross said. "I’ve never had to do that, but you do have to keep yourself totally separate."
Public officials involved in such entrepreneurial ventures are required to disassociate themselves from the city in which they hold office, said Tim Delaney, founder of the Phoenix-based Center for Leadership, Ethics and Public Service, who stressed he does not know the specifics of Drake’s case.
Delaney said public officials have to be careful not to "wear two hats" as both developer and politician.
Paradise Valley Town Manager Tom Martinsen said he met with Drake and members of Marriott International a couple months ago regarding the hoteliers’ interest in developing the land. He said he is not concerned about Drake’s involvement, and did not know that Lowry was hired.
Meanwhile, the land is seen as a major development opportunity for both communities. It is already zoned for a resort, but Marriott would likely need updated approvals, Martinsen said.
Drake and Lowry described the early concept as first class and as having respect for both communities’ design standards, which are known to be among the strictest in the Valley. About 20 acres are in Scottsdale, while the remaining 100 acres are in Paradise Valley.
Joy Berry, a Marriott International real estate executive, said Drake was recommended to her by three separate development firms as being "one of the more creative" site planners in the area. Berry said the company is still in the preliminary stages of evaluating whether to develop the property.
Lowry, who has worked on many real estate transactions in the past, including Scottsdale Fashion Square, said it makes sense for the company to hire a team of local experts who are invested in the community.
"It’s in the better interest of any community that the people working on this type of a project are knowledgeable about the community, knowledgeable about how things get done and the steps you have to go through to get things done," Lowry said.
"If somebody comes in here to redevelop any piece of commercial property, I would much prefer they have people representing them that I know and have known for awhile . . . rather than having somebody come in here with a bunch of people you don’t know where they are really coming from and whether they really care about what’s left after it’s all over."