One month after Scottsdale Fashion Square unveiled plans for a 12-phase renovation and expansion that would affect every square foot of the mall, the Scottsdale City Council voted to let property owners build 150-foot towers on the north end of the property.
The 5-2 vote also comes one month after nearly 300 residents — mostly from the Scottsdale Waterfront and Optima Camelview Village condominiums — filed a petition against the expansion.
Councilman David Smith and Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield voted against it.
Most buildings more than 60 feet tall require special city approval. Most of the Fashion Square property was already zoned for 90 feet.
A 103-foot-tall office building on the mall's property is currently the tallest structure.
Supporters said the expansion would allow Fashion Square, which attracts millions of tourists each year and generates 71 percent of downtown Scottsdale's sales tax, to bring in more business.
More than 20 people spoke in favor of the expansion at the council meeting, including Sasha Weller, Scottsdale Firefighters Association president, and Mark Hiegel, Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.
Opponents said more shopping and residences near the mall will aggravate traffic on what they call an already-congested stretch of Scottsdale and Camelback roads, and the increased height and density will jeopardize the mountain views that brought them to Scottsdale.
"The west's most western town will become the west's most Chicago-like town," said Stephen McConnell, a Waterfront resident.
While plans for the expansion were announced in December, many details surrounding the 150-foot buildings still aren't clear.
The mall is owned by the Santa Monica, California-based Macerich, which had submitted wide-ranging plans for the new buildings to include residences, a new hotel and office spaces.
Land-use attorney John Berry, who represents Macerich, said Tuesday that the plans are purposely broad. It's not clear how many buildings will go in or if they'll house condos, apartments, hotels, or a combination of the three, he said.
In return for the increased height, Macerich will pay more than $750,000 to a city trust fund for downtown cultural improvements.
While the City Council approved the zoning change Tuesday night, Macerich will have to present plans to the Development Review Board for the site south of Highland Avenue, between Goldwater Boulevard and Scottsdale Road.
"We are so pleased that the Scottsdale City Council voted last night in support of our vision to ensure Scottsdale Fashion Square will remain a vital part of the community for the long term," Andy Greenwood, Macerich assistant vice president of development, said in a statement to The Republic.
Greenwood said Macerich will listen to community input as future proposals move through the Development Review Board.
"We are excited to bring plans to the Development Review Board in the coming months as we work closely with residents, the community, and the city on a development project that we hope everyone will be proud of," he said in the statement.
Macerich officials in July said the renovation and expansion will touch every square foot in the mall.
The renovations are starting in its luxury wing, which includes retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Dillard's. The first phase of renovations will start in September and is expected to finish in fall 2018.
While most of the public comments at Tuesday night's meeting were in favor of the expansion, it's been a point of contention for some nearby residents.
Included in Tuesday night's agenda item were 478 signatures in favor of the expansion and nearly 300 signatures against the expansion.
A group of residents from the Scottsdale Waterfront and Optima Camelview Village condominiums in July formed the SFS Mall Oversight Group and filed a petition against the expansion with the city.
Several of them spoke during the council meeting's public comment, though they said they weren't hopeful it would help their cause.
"We fully expected that everyone’s decisions were fully made up before this meeting," said Kevin Gambill, principal moderator of the group. "Our comments were to express our frustrations and feelings and get them on record."
Smith and Littlefield were outspoken in their votes against the zoning change — though they both said they weren't opposed to the expansion itself.
They took issue with the vague proposal and the comments from Berry that Macerich may or may not use the full 150 feet.
"A 'no' vote, in my mind, would not be a vote against the project," Smith said. "I don't even know what the project is."
Littlefield also said she couldn't tell what the project was asking for, other than a sweeping approval for extra height.
"Everyone wants Fashion Square to succeed and be profitable, no doubt," Littlefield said. "I have never, ever seen such flexibility (in a proposal) ... when we don't even know what is going to be built."
Berry said it's better to have the allowance for more height and not have to use it, rather than want to build higher than allowed. Because of that, the proposal to the city doesn't contain specifics on how many buildings could go in.
Smith said he saw an approval for the rezoning as a "carte-blanche" measure, which simply allowed extra height and density with no specific use in mind.
"They say it's going to increase the quality of life," he said. "I look and look and look and I don't know how. Height doesn't increase the quality of life — certainly not for the people looking at it."
Mayor Jim Lane voted for the expansion and said supporting Fashion Square is important to have a strong downtown.
"I do remember a time when we would have been happy to have a parking or traffic problem because there was no one here," he said. "It was a borderline ghost town at times."