General Plan Update: The Best Bad Idea We Have?

Our local “indy” newspaper printed a letter from Don Henninger a couple of days ago regarding the state of the local political climate, and Scottsdale’s aggravatingly-persistent General Plan Update.

It reminded me of a scene from the Ben Affleck film, Argo, about the CIA rescue of the US Embassy hostages from Iran in 1981, under the guise of filming a science fiction movie:

Image result for argo best bad idea
The best bad idea we have:

CIA operative Tony Mendez: There are only bad options. It’s about finding the best one.

CIA director Stansfield Turner: You don’t have a better bad idea than this?

CIA supervisor Jack O’Donnell: This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far.

I don’t think I even bothered to comment on Henninger’s letter because most of it was nonsensical. But because of Nancy Cantor’s letter today, in which she offers token criticism that is largely ineffective, I was prompted to go back and read Henninger’s letter again.

My biggest takeaway?

“Anti-development is not a vision. There are no evil developers in dark corners waiting to make big bucks on developments no one wants.”


Mr. Henninger is a PR flack, and the former publisher of the Phoenix Business Journal. He’s also the interim CEO of the Scottsdale Chamber of Developers (aka, “Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce”). And he’s the executive director of the thinly-disguised Scottsdale Coalition of Today and Tomorrow (“SCOTT,” for short), that looks an awful lot like something the Chamber would set up to disseminate propaganda.

So, a lecture from Henninger on “vision” or “anti-development” is about the last thing that’s helpful to the citizens in determining how they want Scottsdale to look as we move toward our future

And, with regard to Ms. Cantor’s letter (which I will reproduce below, along with Henninger’s), she appears to be shilling for the “General Plan Update 2035” effort that the city is currently promoting.

The bulk of what the city is now calling “the 2035 General Plan Update,” is recycled from an earlier effort which was rejected by the voters at the polls in 2011. The 2011 efforts were themselves “updated” in 2014 in an effort led by the “Arizona Town Hall” organization. The civic-sounding name wouldn’t give you a clue that ATH is a bunch of zoning attorneys and real estate lawyers.

Looking back at the sanitized proceedings (mostly cleansed of objections from ordinary citizens like yours truly), you see sprinkled throughout a who’s who of those who feed at the development trough. In fact, I’d venture to say that developers and others who are employed in various land-use fields (who thus have a direct financial stake in the outcome) outnumbered ordinary citizens.

Cantor can’t say she doesn’t know this, because she was one of the shills embedded in the “Task Force” that was propped up in front of a process that wasn’t citizen-driven at all.

Even more importantly, our elected “representatives” have long considered the General Plan and our City Charter to be not guides to good development and good governance; but rather obstacles to be overcome for the benefit of their supporters, and mechanisms to extract campaign contributions.

Cantor makes vague reference to this in comments buried in her letter, and somewhat adapts language that I have been using for many years. But it’s a fair cry from criticizing her friends and benefactors to any significant degree.

Mike Kelly’s 2013 observations on this juxtaposition of effort and subsequent disregard of it ring just as true today.

The fact that Henninger sent in his letter to the editor, and that Nancy responded, indicate to me that we are soon going to see another push to get an “update” on the ballot and get it passed. And this will probably happen next year as a ‘special election,’ timed so as not to interfere with Nancy’s developer friends’ re-election efforts in 2020.

The General Plan Update in it’s current form is a really bad idea. I think we can do better. And we don’t have to choose from only bad ideas.

Henninger’s letter:

What’s your vision for Scottsdale?

As Scottsdale residents wrap up a tumultuous political and financial year and leave the recent city elections in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to focus on the new year ahead.

I appreciate the calls for unity that are being sounded by many around the city. This follows a year that was dominated by one of the most divisive issues the city has ever faced – the Desert EDGE project and subsequent approval of Proposition 420.

The issue split the city, damaged relationships and left people wondering whether we can move ahead together and get things done to keep the city healthy and prosperous. The issue did produce a solid grass roots win for Proposition 420 supporters though it’s not clear what that means for other issues moving ahead.

On the financial front, the city did little to solve its capital infrastructure needs. The political will to present a comprehensive bonding package to the voters simply wasn’t there. The voter-approved transit sales tax is a nice band-aid but doesn’t solve the huge infrastructure funding issue. There’s another $200 million in transit work needed, and $400 million more in non-transit work still unmet.

The plea for unity from so many is encouraging but is the will there to really meet Scottsdale needs through a difficult political process that is already under way for the 2020 council and mayoral election? Time will tell.
It’s pretty tough to develop a sustainable sense of unity when there is no vision to build it on. What is the vision for Scottsdale?
Scottsdale citizens have plenty to be proud of – the city remains the jewel of the Valley. But it needs to evolve and progress and that’s where the divides start, often over single issues. From an overall community good stance, where’s the common ground?

It’s easy to say no to a project. It’s a lot harder to say no and also offer a suggestion for a different solution.

Anti-development is not a vision. There are no evil developers in dark corners waiting to make big bucks on developments no one wants.

That makes for great headlines. It simply isn’t true.

Scottsdale is a city with three distinct regions. An urban core – south Scottsdale to Old Town. A suburban middle – north to Bell Road. And some of the most pristine rural landscapes in all of the Southwest in north Scottsdale. Is that the start of a vision that people can unite behind?

Yet when people talk about “the three cities in one” of Scottsdale they usually are referring to conflicting views for the city’s future. You can see the results on the fate of bonds at the ballot box. Voters in the north have rejected vital issues needed in the south (and often vice versa).

How does that foster anything that can be called community good? How does that contribute to a strong vision for the entire city?

All voices count. And facts matter if we are going to be a united community that keeps the city moving forward.

What’s your vision for the city? Let’s start the conversation. Let’s look for ways we can share our ideas together. In a true spirit of unity.

Cantor’s letter:

2035 General Plan Update envisions a well-rounded Scottsdale future

Oh, Mr. Henninger, it is complicated, isn’t it? It has just gotten away from the people who want power without working with all these different people with different ideas getting in the way.

Divide and conquer that is how you get your way.

Somebody sold that load of effluvia to would-be leaders in order to get “their way” for the future of our city.

For a while now developers and their individual visions for their individual projects without consideration for the people the project would immediately impact, that attitude has lead the way.

It’s not all one-sided because “we the people” have not paid attention to, or learned what we as taxpaying citizens must do to maintain the fabric of our community.

Participate or don’t participate, both have consequences.

A General Plan provides a guide for making these choices by describing long-term goals for the city’s future as well as policies to guide day-to-day decisions. These guidelines are not laws, but they do express the strong vision and values of the people, but in our city it seems to be very easy to ignore them whether long-term goals or making everyday decisions.

Zoning amendments? Give ’em what they want.

Codes and ordinances? Waive those whenever asked.

Standard Operating Procedures? Bend or ignore them they just get in the way.

We have the 2001 General Plan and the 2035 General Plan Update, both documents have Vision and Values statements offered by the citizens who worked on them; the last being collected through a Town Hall process and surveying over 1,000 residents.

Community Values in the year 2025, (contained in the 2001 General Plan approved by the “people”) states that Scottsdale will be a community that:

-Demonstrates its commitment to environmental, economic, and social sustainability and measures both the short and long-term impacts of our decisions;
-Creates, revitalizes, and preserves neighborhoods that have long-term viability, unique attributes and character, livability, connectivity to other neighborhoods in the community, and that fit together to form an exceptional citywide quality of life (i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of its parts);
-Facilitates human connection by anticipating and locating facilities and infrastructure that enable human communication and interaction; and by promoting policies that have a clear human orientation, value and benefit;
-Respects the environmental character of the city with preservation of desert and mountain lands, and innovative ways of protecting natural resources, clean air, water resources, natural habitat, and wildlife migration routes, archaeological resources, vistas, and view and scenic corridors;
-Builds on its cultural heritage, promotes historical and archaeological preservation areas, and identifies and promotes the arts and tourism in a way that recognizes the unique desert environment in which we live;
-Coordinates transportation options with appropriate land uses to enable a decreased reliance on the automobile and more mobility choices;
-Maintains or improves its high standards of appearance, aesthetics, public amenities, and levels of service;
-Recognizes and embraces change: from being predominantly undeveloped to mostly built out, from a young town to a maturing city, from a bedroom community to a net importer of employees, and from a focus on a single economic engine to a diverse, balanced economy;
-Simultaneously acknowledges our past (preservation of historically significant sites and buildings will be important), and prepares for our future;
-Promotes growth that serves community needs, quality of life and community character;
-Recognizes and embraces the diversity of the community by creating an environment that respects the human dignity of all without regard to race, religion, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, or physical attributes.

General Plan Update 2035 begins with a values statement that was created by the people, in a Town Hall process similar to the Scottsdale Town Enrichment Process that guided our city’s growth from the town of Scottsdale to the incorporated city of Scottsdale. It reads:

These values will be at the forefront of our decision-making in implementing our vision, community aspirations, and goals found in the General Plan and shall be the basis upon and shall be the basis upon which inconsistencies in the General Plan are resolved (values listed are of equal importance):

-Respect Character and Culture – Enhance and protect Scottsdale’s unique features, neighborhood identity, character, livability, southwestern heritage, and tourism through appropriate land uses and high standards for design. Create vibrant and attractive places that accommodate a variety of ages and incomes and support the arts and multi-cultural traditions.
-Conserve and Preserve the Environment – Lead the region in the stewardship and effective management of the Sonoran Desert environment and conservation of natural resources and open spaces for the visual, physical, and personal enrichment of everyone.
-Collaborate and Engage – Promote strong, visionary leadership that is transparent, responsive, and efficient; collaborates regionally; respects and honors our community values; recognizes the benefit of interactive community involvement and volunteerism; and embraces citizens as active partners in decisions that affect their neighborhoods and city.
-Foster Well-Being – Promote a culture of life-long physical and mental health, safety, and well-being for residents, visitors, employers, and employees.
-Connect the Community – Connect all community members across geographic, cultural and generational boundaries by cultivating a welcoming environment; respecting human dignity; recognizing and embracing citywide and regional diversity; and striving for cost-effective, adaptable, and innovative mobility options.
-Revitalize Responsibly – Vigorously evaluate the short- and long-term impacts of decisions to ensure that development and redevelopment support and maintain the unique features and identity that make Scottsdale special, and contribute positively to the community’s physical, fiscal and economic needs and high quality of life.
-Advance Innovation and Prosperity – Embrace a diverse, and innovative economy to sustain our high quality of life through a variety of businesses, health and research institutions, and educational, technological, tourism and cultural elements.

If you can restore the confidence of the people in the governance of the city you will have accomplished quite a bit, but that means dealing with the infrastructure funding in a way the people feel there are no hidden agendas. And if you can convince leadership that having and following a plan for future development is better than here, there, and everywhere, it would go a long way.

One last thing, the Town Hall that created the 2035 visions and values, had folks from all over the city, all socioeconomic levels, from McKellips Road to the Road to Bartlett Lake, students, and small business people who live here too and retirees new to our city and those who have lived here for decades. It was multicultural, multi-generational and all took the job seriously. Wish leadership did.

You may also like


  1. I deleted a comment from Mike Norton on this post because of Mike’s recent modus operandi of incessant harassment and quibbling over documented, verifiable facts. When, in a recent social media conversation Mike devolved to public profanity, I ultimately blocked him from further comment on that platform.

    However, I’ll reproduce the pertinent part of his comment on this post because it further illustrates the false premises upon which Noron bases his pointless criticisms:

    “I’m tired of the “I hate developers” and “developers are evildoers” crowd. Not every development is an assault on our community and not every developer is evil. If developers had been shut out 24 years ago when I moved to Scottsdale, I would still have to drive a half hour to get to a restaurant.”

    Firstly, neither I nor anyone with whom I work on these issues has ever said all developers are evil or all development is bad. On the contrary, former city councilman Bob Littlefield explicitly said the opposite in a public comment just yesterday.

    Secondly, Norton has in other settings been highly critical of concerned citizens for being backward-looking, especially as regards Scottsdale’s 2001 General Plan for development. Notwithstanding debates about failed attempts to update the General Plan, it remains in force as one of the two foundational components of the organic (citizen-ratified) law of Scottsdale. And yet Norton himself now dabbles in the “back in my day” rhetoric.

    The General Plan was created largely because of unbridled development that was occurring before Norton moved here, and is largely responsible for the carefully-considered growth that has, until recently, been a signature feature of our physical character.

    I have never actively opposed a development project that complied with the General Plan and related zoning ordinances. The fact is that a lot of the bigger projects have received massive concessions from Norton’s friends on the city council. These concessions take the form of increased density, reduced setbacks from the street, reduced step-back of upper floors, greater height, and other “amended development standards” like ugly designs, and lesser quality materials that mock the “luxury” label frequently appended to these projects.

    1. I dont always agree with how you say things John, but you have been (to the best of my knowledge) consistent in your approach to the general plan and Scottsdale’s development decisions for the ~4 yrs I’ve read your comments. Norton sadly has developed a very subjective filter about what people actually say, in order to satisfy whatever agenda he’s promoting from behind his keyboard.

      I would like your feedback on how the GP update should proceed. It has to happen, but people are afraid it will be co-opted. What is your solution? Can a good update come out of a pro-development Council Majority?

      1. Also just found out Danielle Casey left some months ago. I dont know how to objectively measure her performance and the context around it. But given how much she was touted as a rising star, seems odd that her departure has been so quiet.

        1. Danielle Casey’s performance or lack thereof isn’t really the issue as far as I’m concerned. The whole notion of a municipality wining and dining select developers and other business principals is an anachronism.

          The economic development (actually I think they call themselves “economic vitality”) department is mostly a waste of money. Businesses locate to cities and developers build in cities that are desirable places to live…which is driven by resident quality of life.

          And it’s also a question of long-term sustainability vs short-term quarterly or yearly profits. Our General Plan emphasizes the former, yet Mayor Lane and the city council chase the latter… for the benefit of their business associates and campaign contributors, NOT for the residents they supposedly represent.

          I guess that sort of answers your question about the General Plan, too. How to implement it? I think there are probably some minor housekeeping matters to be done, but even those begin with asking (and analyzing) what’s not working about the 2001 plan (very little, in my humble opinion). Writing a new plan is a big waste of time and effort, essentially throwing the baby out with the bath water.

          But the most important part is adhering to the plan we already have, to the greatest extent we can. No plan is going to be useful if Mayor Lane, Suzanne Klapp, Virginia Korte, Linda “Wells Fargo” Milhaven, and Guy Phillips see it only as an obstacle to be overcome for the benefit of their campaign contributors (in effect, a mechanism for extracting contributions) rather than a guide to sustainability and long-term resident quality of life.

          1. A year or 2 ago when I first considered running for Council, I spoke with some infuencers and ceo’s I know through the tech industry. They had a very different view of what they wanted than Casey’s department. The latter were pushing downtown, the Galleria, hip spaces etc etc. The people I know wanted nice offices with the ability to walk to a few dining spots, and easy transportation to a hotel and the airport. they wanted to balance that with easy highway access to draw from potential employees around the Valley. Perimeter Circle, for example, was pegged as a new hotspot.

            A lot of people are saying we need a new GP to outline a new vision for the City. I’m sure you saw today’s Voice of Virginia – it recounted 10 years of conflicts and flops, not vision. I am not so sure we need a grand vision, as much as just adherence to the “humble” vision that got us here. Definitely some areas for big thinking, but in smaller contexts, imo.

          2. Read the 2001 General Plan. It’s there. The “10 years of conflicts and flops” aren’t because of the plan. They are because of willful ignorance of it.

  2. Thanks for pointing out all the issues related to the General Plan. On 12/11/18 I spoke before council and asked the council majority and Lane to recuse themselves related to the Vote for the smoking patio for the Rock Bar. I was rudely interrupted by Lane twice but held my own against his attempt to shut me down. Louise Lamb then interrupted me from the floor and said time is up. If Lane had not taken 30 seconds from me, I would have been well within my 3 minutes. I exposed campaign contributions and their favorable vote from Lane, Milhaven, Korte and Klapp. Phillips did not receive funding from the owner of the Rock Bar property but he also agreed so 5/2 vote to give the obnoxious bar 419 sq ft. patio for $3,105 annually. What a joke and I will be going after all smoking patios which the city leases and ultimately condones for smoking. While this is a small matter it shows the influence of campaign financing on all votes. Both the Progress and Republic explained the campaign contributions and the vote. It is a start to take down this corrupt council. You taught me well and I continue to dig in daily to expose our bad government. Thanks for your continued interest in making Scottsdale a better place to live.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *