Stronger oversight of new construction in the works - East Valley Tribune: Phoenix & The Valley Of The Sun

Stronger oversight of new construction in the works

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Posted: Saturday, July 23, 2005 4:23 am | Updated: 9:36 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Stronger oversight of development in Scottsdale will focus on ensuring compliance with the city’s standards for environmentally friendly building.

The effort by city planning officials is in response to activists’ complaints that many construction projects aren’t adhering to ordinances and guidelines designed to foster development that’s sensitive to the environment.

"What we consider sensitive and what developers consider sensitive is sometimes worlds apart," said resident Tony Nelssen, a longtime preservation advocate.

Too many builders cut corners that threaten fragile desert terrain and drainage routes, as well as undermine the city’s goal to preserve natural open space and protect scenic views, Nelssen said.

Activists have raised such concerns for years, "but it’s just been a constant battle" getting city inspectors to maintain enforcement, he said.

"The lack of consistency is appalling," he said.

City Councilman Bob Littlefield said he’s intent on seeing the situation change.

"I’m going to make sure (the new oversight plan) doesn’t disappear into some bureaucratic black hole," he said.

Steps that planning officials said they are taking include:

• Opening a satellite planning office in north Scottsdale to keep a closer eye on construction projects in the area where most new building is occurring and where development is subject to the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Ordinance.

• Hiring drainage and hydrology experts to work to prevent developments from disrupting the city’s flood-control system.

• A stronger push for compliance with design guidelines for preserving neighborhood ambience, especially the rural character of some areas.

• A system of checks and balances to assure development proposals aren’t approved without meeting all applicable environmental standards.

• Education programs to keep planners, developers and residents up to date on standards.

Planning department heads will give the City Council a progress report in the fall, said Kroy Eklaw, planning and development services manager.

Linda Whitehead, vice president of the Coalition of Pinnacle Peak residents group, said the "mindset (of city planning officials) is the root of the problem."

Planners think their job is to shepherd developers through the building approval process rather than working to make sure development protects residents’ quality of life and achieves the city’s environmental goals, she said.

"The mindset has to be changed in that department from the top down," she said.

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