by Edward Gately – Feb. 5, 2011
The Arizona Republic

Gray Development Group’s scaled-down proposal for its Blue Sky luxury apartment complex east of Scottsdale Fashion Square cleared the first of three hurdles Thursday with a unanimous favorable recommendation by the city’s Development Review Board.

The changes Gray has made were in response to negotiations with surrounding property owners, ST Residential and Triyar Properties. Their legal protests forced a supermajority vote of 6-1 for City Council approval. Neither protest has been pulled.

In November, the council voted to postpone Gray’s proposal indefinitely. Because the plan includes numerous changes, it was sent back for reconsideration by the Development Review Board and the Planning Commission before heading to the council later this month.

Gray’s original proposal included 1,196 apartment units and a maximum building height of 133 feet excluding an additional 15 feet for rooftop mechanical needs.

The proposal now includes:

– 749 units.

– Three buildings, down from five.

– A maximum building height of 128 feet, including rooftop mechanical.

The tallest building, along Scottsdale Road, would be just north of the Triyar retail center on the northeastern corner of Scottsdale and Camelback roads. The other two buildings, including a second building along Scottsdale Road and one along Arizona Canal, would have a maximum height of 118 feet.

The board’s favorable recommendation was for amended development standards as part of the city’s downtown infill incentive district. It was not for the site plan or design.

The recommendation included a stipulation that Gray remain flexible with its site plan to address ongoing concerns about traffic and the heights and setback of the buildings along Scottsdale Road.

Board member David Brantner said Blue Sky will be a “great project” for the city, but the building mass along Scottsdale Road is a concern. He would like to see Gray “break up and soften” the building heights along that street.

ST Residential owns and manages the Safari Drive condominium complex east of the Blue Sky site.

This week, ST Residential filed a new legal protest against Gray’s latest proposal. It has not been appeased by the changes Gray has made, said Randy Grant, a Scottsdale resident and company spokesman.

“We just wanted to reaffirm our continuing opposition even to the site plan that’s being proposed now,” he said. “It’s still too much development on the property. Some of the sheer building faces are too dramatic, and I think the project is too dense. We want to be able to support it.”

Board member Eric Gerster said the changes Gray has made to appease its neighbors haven’t necessarily improved the proposal. He also said he is bothered by surrounding property owners having such a heavy influence on the proposal when they are looking out for their “own self-interest” and not the community’s.

“I don’t like where this is heading,” he said.

Brian Kearney, Gray’s chief operating officer, told the board that his development team has worked hard to address adjacent property owners’ concerns, and that the team has reached a point where it has to move forward with a plan.

“I think there was an appreciation by the board for what we’ve done to try to respond to both our immediate neighbors as well as the general public, and I think they continue to see the themes that have been important to the community in what we have presented,” he said. “And for that reason they were willing to support us moving on.”

Grant said Gray can and should continue to make changes to address their concerns.

“There have been five or six site plans, and each one was as far as they could go,” he said. “It really comes down to what’s appropriate, not ‘Is this better than the previous one?’ . . . and I think we’re still a ways away from that.”

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