The race to collect signatures to halt a downtown Scottsdale apartment building has intensified with allegations of intimidation, police calls and a council member calling for civility.
The “Height and Density” political committee is attempting to gather 1,961 signatures by March 20 to force the Hanover apartment and retail project onto a fall election ballot.
The hope is to overturn last month’s City Council approval of the five-story apartment and retail building at the northwest corner of Goldwater and Indian School roads.
The group, led by chairman and activist Tom Giller, is claiming signature gatherers are being harassed in front of city libraries by “goons” looking to intimidate potential signers — a claim denied by Hanover’s lawyer.
Scottsdale police spokesman David Pubins said police have been called to at least two confrontations, including Thursday at the Mustang Library where they separated the two sides. Those include those pursuing the referendum, and those hired by Hanover to discourage signers of the referendum petition.
On Friday, Pubins said Giller called the police to say “very dangerous looking people” were in front of the Civic Center Library, but Pubins said police arrived and found no problems.
The same day, Scottsdale Councilman Ron McCullagh — who supported the project — said he received independent confirmations of harassment by the Hanover side.
“I don’t condone any attempt to subvert the democratic process and that’s what that is,” McCullagh said.
McCullagh said he called consultants Technical Solutions, owned by Paul and Susan Bitter Smith, and cautioned them against overzealous petitioning in support of the project.
But Tom Irvine, an election lawyer hired by Hanover, said the charges of harassment and intimidation are false.
“As far as we know, none of that has happened,” Irvine said. “All of those complaints have come from people who are failing in their effort.”
Irvine said Hanover supporters are telling the story of an exciting project and seeking signed supporters that would be used if indeed there was an election.
But the Hanover supporters are not the only one being criticized. Others have complained about the referendum group.
At a south Scottsdale church Thursday, an attempt was made to gather signatures on church property when the referendum supporters were asked to move, said Lisa Haskell, who was organizing a neighborhood meeting on south Scottsdale issues at the church. Haskell said they did not want to leave, but eventually moved to the sidewalk.
With just nine more days before the filing deadline, The Hanover Company has contributed $30,000 to the referendum opposition effort, with Hanover managing partner Eric Kenney contributing $1,000 of his own money, according to filings with the Scottsdale City Clerk’s office.
And the Citizens for a Great Downtown chaired by Kenney has spent $10,000 for legal services with the law firm Shughart Thomson and Kilroy, where Irvine works.
Height and Density is paying signature gatherers, but has made no financial submissions as of Monday. Those are required when the committee has received more than $10,000 from a single source or spent more than $10,000.
Giller said the referendum is being done to not only stop a project that he says is too tall and dense for the area, but also send a message to other planned high-rise developments downtown.
“It’s systematic of the density for dollars program,” Giller said.
Height and Density’s referendum effort has the backing of resident activist groups Coalition of Pinnacle Peak and Coalition of Greater Scottsdale, and petitions are also being circulated through the Villa Monterey senior community.
Both COPP and COGS have raised concern that the new project was approved just months before the anticipated adoption of the city’s first new downtown plan since the mid-1980s, a plan that will be used to guide downtown development over the next 20 years. They’ve also raised concerns with the project’s impact on traffic, infrastructure and the threat to the city’s character.
In addition to Hanover’s 230 high-end apartment rentals, there will be 31,000 square feet of retail along Goldwater and Indian School Road and a separate one-story building fronting Fifth Avenue.
The council voted 5-2 to approve the 65-foot project, with Councilmen Bob Littlefield and Tony Nelssen voting against the rezoning.
The project would replace a Village Inn, Ramada Limited hotel and office buildings.
Prior to the referendum effort, Kenney had said construction could start this summer and take about two years to complete.