Sports complex near WestWorld wins approval

15 | 12 | 2020

City Council unanimously approved plans for a new sports complex near WestWorld in north Scottsdale that will double as special event parking for major events like Barrett-Jackson and the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Article originally posted here.

The Bell Road Sports Complex will include six fields and be paid for using bond money approved by voters in 2019.

The three-question, $319-million bond package included $40 million to build up to 13 new multi-use sports fields near WestWorld.

The Bell Road complex, located on 37 acres of currently-vacant desert at the northwest corner of Bell Road and 94th Street, is the first phase of that project.

The Bell Road complex has nearly 600 permanent parking spaces and could accommodate up to 3,000 to 3,500 cars during special events when the fields function as parking stalls.

A Council report shows the 596 permanent parking spots are above the 235 spaces required by city code.

The city is also planning to build a park north of the Bell Road Sports complex for the neighboring DC Ranch community.

That park will not include any sports fields but will offer trails and a lake to irrigate the fields at Bell Road and 94th Street.

The DC Ranch neighborhood park received unanimous approval from the Scottsdale Planning Commission on Nov. 18 and is scheduled to go before the City Council on Jan. 12.

The Bell Road complex received little pushback when it came before the City Council on Dec. 7, though neighboring residents expressed concerns at open houses hosted earlier by the city over potential light pollution from the fields and parking and traffic issues caused by the increased activity generated by the new complex.

Chris Irish, DC Ranch’s director of public affairs, asked Council to include additional concessions to neighborhood requests, including a closing time from 10:30 p.m. to no later than 10 p.m.

Residents previously expressed concerns about the impact of field lighting.

In noting the fields will provide parking for special events for two to four weeks each year, Scottsdale Preserve Director Kroy Ekblaw told Council the complex will use newer LED lights that prevents light from shining beyond the fields and into neighborhoods.

But that only addressed part of neighbors’ concerns.

“I’m going to make an educated guess that if any of you lived next to a facility that generated noise until 10:30 p.m., you would think that’s too late,” Irish said.

The city did not adjust the park’s closing time at the meeting, though.

Irish made other requests, such as adding a gate to the eastern edge of the site to control access to the facility when it is closed and improving pedestrian access and safety.

Irish asked the city to lower the speed limit on 94th Street to 35 miles per hour and add a crosswalk at north of the Bell Road intersection at 94th Street and Palo Brea Bend to accommodate an expected increase in pedestrian traffic to the complex.

Ekblaw said the city has included the eastern gate in the new plan for the complex.

Council did not vote to include the speed limit change or crosswalk in the site plan approval but directed staff to look into the need for those changes.

Phil Kertcher, the city’s traffic engineering manager said, the city is studying the need for the speed limit change.

He said city staff’s observations of current conditions in the area did not justify the creation of a crosswalk but did not rule out the option entirely.

“We will do a more formal evaluation as time goes on and as the park continues to move towards development,” Kertcher said.

The overall sports complex project has also received some criticism for providing parking for private events like Barrett-Jackson and the Phoenix Open on the city’s dime.

In 2019, City Manager Jim Thompson said the city was facing an impending shortage of special event parking near WestWorld in the coming years as the state trust land currently used for parking is sold at auction to developers like Nationwide.

The fields and parking project were the only items included in the 2019 bond package that did not receive support from at least 50 percent of residents who submitted comments when the city requested feedback.

That year, council members Linda Milhaven and Solange Whitehead supported a failed motion to remove all projects connected to WestWorld from the bond proposal and Milhaven also tried to reduce funding for the fields by $20 million, suggesting private event organizers foot the bill for their own parking.

“I think these events need to pay for their own parking,” Milhaven said.

City staff has said the city is negotiating with Barrett-Jackson and The Thunderbirds, who host the golf tournament, to work out long-term fees for use of the sports fields for parking.

“We’re still working toward that,” Assistant City Manager Bill Murphy said. “We’re getting closer every day and talking with everybody. It’s just, I think, the uncertainty of this year with the event season and the fact that we’re in a COVID situation.”

The city plans to begin site work on the project in January with the goal of completing the complex in January 2022, Murphy said.

The city is currently planning to bid on state trust land located east of WestWorld near McDowell Mountain Ranch Road and Thompson Peak Pkwy. for the second phase. That 7-acre site is set to go to auction on Dec. 28 with a starting bid of $1.15 million.

If the city wins the auction, it will build four to seven sports fields at the WestWorld Sports Complex. The complex will also be able to park 3,000 to 3,500 vehicles during special events.

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