The Town Council on Sept. 15 voted 4-2 to adopt a Planned Shopping Plaza Overlay as a zoning tool for the downtown Fountain Hills area. A rather passionate discussion and the split vote on the issue focused on whether an indoor mini-storage facility would be appropriate for a downtown location.
The discussion led to a vote to approve the ordinance change without a provision to allow indoor mini storage as a permitted use with a special use permit (SUP). Vice Mayor Mike Scharnow made the motion to approve, stipulating that a provision in the amendment that allows the mini storage be removed. Council members Art Tolis and Dennis Brown opposed. Councilman Alan Magazine was absent.
“We have been watching the slow growth of the downtown for years,” Tolis said. “There are a lot of needs for this area and those who want to invest in the area need to be heard.
“There needs to be services for people who want to live here.”
In voicing opposition to the storage provision, Councilman David Spelich said mini storage does not need to be in the downtown.
“When we make these decisions, we need to get it right,” Spelich said. “Sometimes we look in the wrong location.”
There are opportunities for this type of development outside the overlay area, but still close to the downtown, Spelich noted.
A property owner and developer have been working with town staff for months on a proposal for a three-story indoor mini storage facility at Verde River Drive and Parkview Avenue, within the overlay boundary. Efforts to address land use requirements for this project initiated the process to add the overlay.
Don Andrews, the architect who has been working on the mini storage project told the council it should be looking to “create (the downtown) into something different from the past.
“If you are going to have density in the downtown you need to meet specific needs, one of those is storage,” Andrews said. “This (facility) is meant more for business than residential.”
It has also been pointed out that with rental units being developed in and near the downtown, many residents who are downsizing may also be looking for convenient storage.
Development Services Director John Wesley said in working on the zoning request staff discovered that a Planned Shopping Plaza Overlay was adopted by the town soon after incorporation in 1992. However, that overlay was removed when the town adopted its own Zoning Ordinance separate from county regulations in 1993.
“In 1998 the town reviewed and approved an ordinance which amended the 1992…overlay district,” Wesley said in his staff report. “This amendment did some things to bring the overlay district in line with the town 1993 Zoning Ordinance…The effect of this ordinance is unclear since it still was not placed into the Zoning Ordinance.”
Wesley suggested that some development in the downtown is not compliant with the Zoning Ordinance due to this confusion.
Adding somewhat to the confusion of the council discussion was a second ordinance amendment to allow indoor mini storage in C-2 commercial zoning districts with a SUP. The units are permitted by right in C-3 zoning. That amendment was also approved by the council.
While much of the underlying zoning for the overlay district is C-2, the ordinance to allow an SUP in C-2 would not apply to the overlay, according to Wesley.
“The regulations that would apply to a specific property is a combination of the underlying zoning district – in this case either C-2 or C-3 – and the requirements of (any) overlays,” Wesley told The Times. “So, if there are rules or standards that are part of the C-2 zoning district which are not specifically discussed by or modified through an overlay, the rules of the underlying district would still apply.”
The Planning and Zoning Commission had recommended approval of both of the amendments, however, it included the provision for the SUP for mini storage.