Scottsdale could lose tourism dollars to other Valley communities if two planned hotels on Bell Road are not allowed to build taller than previous zoning permitted, city officials claimed Tuesday.
The City Council voted 4-3 to rezone a 28-acre portion of the Epicenter project - an L-shaped, 125-acre parcel on the east side of Loop 101 at Bell Road - from "industrial park" to "planned regional center." The change allows developers Scottsdale Vistella, a subsidiary of New York-based Levine Builders, to breach the site's current maximum building height of 36 feet to allow hotels of up to 56 feet on of the site along the parcel's eastern edge.
Councilman Wayne Ecton, who voted in favor of the change, said that without hotels near WestWorld of Scottsdale, which hosts major events like the Arabian Horse Show and the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction, tourists will go elsewhere.
"We can't just sit on our hands and let the (Salt River Pima-Maricopa) Indian Community, Glendale, Gilbert and Surprise capitalize on our short-sightedness," Ecton said.
Opponents of the rezoning said taller buildings would block views of the McDowell Mountains.
"The height is just not compatible with that area - the preserve, the mountains and everything," said Bob Vairo, president of Coalition of Pinnacle Peak citizens group.
Vairo said a task force working on long-range planning for the Scottsdale Airpark business district in which Epicenter sits has indicated that taller buildings should be limited to the center of the district.
"This one is right at the border," he said.
The developer's lawyer, John Berry, said the two hotels likely will be an Embassy Suites and an "aloft" brand hotel, which is owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the same company that owns W Hotels, one of which is at Camelback and Scottsdale roads downtown.
Berry said that since Bell Road serves the main entry point to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve - called the Gateway access area - the developer would kick in $150,000 to build a "substantial" piece of public art along the road, possibly related to the preserve.
Council members Betty Drake, Tony Nelssen and Bob Littlefield voted against the zoning change. Littlefield said the argument that tourists will go elsewhere without the hotels is incorrect.
"Exactly the opposite is true. The more height we allow, the less unique Scottsdale will become and the more it will hurt us in the long run," he said.
The change also sets a precedent for other developers who might want taller buildings, he said.
"Every time we approve one of these taller buildings, within months somebody is back saying that's a precedent for us to do the next one," Littlefield said.