The new owners of the Phoenician resort have received a green light from Phoenix to develop more than 300 condos and single-family homes on a portion of its golf course.
The City Council's decision also could remedy a hiking nuisance in the surrounding neighborhoods by relocating a portion of Camelback Mountain's Cholla Trail onto the Phoenician's property.
The resort's sprawling golf course currently has 27 holes, but Host Hotels & Resorts, which purchased the luxury resort for $400 million in 2015, plans to replace nine of those with new residences.
"This is a very ripe area for additional residential units. Host feels that now is the right time to put these units on the market," the company's zoning attorney, Paul Gilbert, said in an interview.
Getting to this point wasn't easy. News of the development initially panicked neighbors in the high-end communities surrounding the Phoenician.
Many worried the new homes would block sight lines of Camelback Mountain, add traffic to the area or wipe out open space around the resort.
Others refused to support the development unless the resort agreed to move a portion of the Cholla Trail onto its land.
After more than a year of discussions with the Phoenician, neighbors and the city, nearly everyone is happy, said Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who represents the area.
"Almost everyone is in support," he said.
DiCiccio ultimately voted against the project after a last-minute council squabble over whether to tear down a restroom on the golf course.
Phoenix had already authorized a majority of the planned 338 new units but, on Wednesday night, the City Council approved a guide for where and how those houses can be built.
The majority of the new homes will go northeast of the hotel, sandwiched between Camelback Mountain and one of the remaining golf courses. There will also be some new development south of the hotel and a few large lots east of it.
To preserve the surrounding homes' views of the mountain, the homes and condos cannot exceed the height of the Phoenician. The development plan also maintains 99 acres of open space.
The developer's promises about building height and other courtesies eventually persuaded homeowners to support the hotel's residential expansion.
"They need the expansion to be able to compete in this market we have today," DiCiccio said.
The resort itself is not adding any additional rooms but is getting an extreme makeover, Gilbert said.
"It's basically a complete remodel and significant upgrade," he said.
When they learned the Phoenician planned to develop some of its open land, a band of neighbors saw a window of opportunity.
They asked if the pathway to the popular Cholla Trail could be moved onto the hotel's property to prevent hikers from trudging through their neighborhood to reach Camelback Mountain.
Currently, hikers have to park or get dropped off along Invergordon Road and walk up Cholla Lane to reach the Cholla Trailhead.
The owners of homes on both sides of Cholla Lane say hikers fill the street, day and night, causing safety concerns and inconvenience.
"Drivers are navigating in an abstracted course, and it's an accident waiting to happen. We'd be remiss to wait for this accident to happen, so we should take action and start moving forward to try to make it safe for all parties involved," neighbor Charmaine Berggreen told the council at an October meeting.
Other neighbors shared stories of hikers urinating in their yards.
The Phoenician agreed to reserve 100 feet along its northern property boundary for a potential new trail. The hotel owners also donated $100,000 toward the study of moving the trail.
But neighbors can't celebrate just yet. This was the first of many steps required to relocate Cholla Trail.
Phoenix Parks and Recreation Director Inger Erickson told the City Council that building a new connection path to Cholla Trail would likely cost more than $2 million. The new path would traverse about 300 yards and meet up with the existing trail.
"There is a long line of parks needs in the city of Phoenix, and so I don't want to leave a false impression with anyone that today we're moving a trail and/or committing resources for a future trail. That would be a significant expenditure," Mayor Greg Stanton said at the meeting.
DiCiccio scoffed at the estimated price tag.
"How did they come up with it? No one knows," DiCiccio said.
Erickson told the City Council that creating the new pathway would come with a significant cost because of the difficult terrain in the area.
The city will begin a feasibility study on relocating the trail with the money from the Phoenician.
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