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Scottsdale planning commissioner accuses Taser maker of intimidation

A plan by the Scottsdale-based maker of Taser stun guns to build a new campus in north Scottsdale has run into problems — both with the city and nearby residents.

Axon is looking to build a new headquarters, but it also wants around 2,000 apartments on the site. Apartments are currently not allowed on that land.

Members of the Scottsdale Planning Commission have not been enthusiastic about the proposal, and one of them is now alleging Axon tried to intimidate him into supporting it. Axon denies the allegation.

Sam Kmack of The Arizona Republic has been following this story, and he joined The Show to talk more about it.

MARK BRODIE: Good morning, Sam.

SAM KMACK: Good morning.

BRODIE: So let's start with what exactly Axon wants to do. They want to build a new headquarters, but they also want some apartments nearby.

KMACK: Right. So they bought a big chunk of land in North Scottsdale back in 2020, 74 acres. And so what they have planned or what they had planned originally was a 400,000-square-foot office building that would be their new headquarters. That plan got approval back in 2020. But then they came back to the city, to the Planning Commission and kind of the bodies that it has to a project has to work through before it gets to the City Council and proposed that on the, the remaining chunk of that property they can build about originally the the proposals for about 2,500 apartments. But it's it's kind of slim that down now. It's about 2,000 apartments, like you said, a hotel and some retail space.

BRODIE: And what, what does the city, what do nearby residents like, why do they object to this? 

KMACK: Well, so like you said, at the beginning, the residential is not currently allowed on that land. And their nearby residential neighborhoods like single family suburban neighborhoods who are worried about traffic just with all the the people who would be moving in there and living on that in that area. With the apartments, there's also concerns about the high density buildings basically taller buildings that might, you know, not make it look as good in that area. But the biggest concern that I've heard from both residents around there and the the planning commissioners and city officials who are making decisions on this is that they feel Axon came in and kind of knew that the land was not appropriate for residential, bought in anyways. And then now they're kind of pressuring the city to say OK, well, we want residential, you have to make this exception or else we're gonna bring our business somewhere else.

BRODIE: Has Axon suggested that they might move their headquarters out of Scottsdale?

KMACK: Well, they've mentioned, you know, focusing their growth, their company in other cities. I remember their development lawyer at one of the, the meetings mentioned Seattle and Atlanta. I don't know if they explicitly said that but it's, it's sort of been implied.

BRODIE: So there's also been an allegation as you reported recently from a member of the Scottsdale Planning Commission. These are volunteers, we should mention who is accusing Axon of trying to intimidate him into, into changing his mind and supporting this project. What, what did he have to say?

KMACK: Yeah, so he sent an email and this is the only thing that we have on record kind of documenting what exactly it is that he says went on. But he sent an email to the city attorney saying that after the Jan. 24 Planning Commission meeting, one of the Axon executives went to the planning commissioner's employer, which is Merrill Lynch, and basically put some pressure on Merrill Lynch or on the, on his boss and said, you know, this guy is not acting appropriately and, and the, the implication there. It's not again, not said straight out, but the implication is the guy tried to sort of put pressure on the planning commissioner via his employer to either change his vote or at least not be as outspoken an opponent, an opponent.

BRODIE: And as I mentioned, Axon has denied that that has happened. What have they said about it?

KMACK: Yeah, Axon has denied it. They sent me a statement, a written statement that just said,, the company has never tried to intimidate any member of the Planning Commission or any member of the city, into doing one thing or the other, but they did not say whether that call, whether there was a call made to,, the planning commissioner's employer. So that we still don't totally know. And they also wouldn't put somebody up for a phone interview to discuss it. So basically, all we know right now about what they're saying is that they did not try to intimidate anybody.

BRODIE: And is the city looking into this, like, has the city Attorney's Office gotten involved?

KMACK: Yeah. Well, one of the City Council members, Betty Janik, she told me that the the city attorney is investigating or the legal department is investigating what went on there. I don't still don't have any real details about what that's going to look like or what exactly, I mean, if that's even definitely happening. I reached out to the city attorney haven't heard back, but like I said, so it's really only the one council member who said that, that that is going on, but everyone else has been relatively quiet about it.

BRODIE: Sure. So, like, what are the next steps? Is this project still in theory alive? Is it still possible or is it pretty much done at this point?

KMACK: Yeah. So, at the last meeting, they voted to the planning commission, voted to it's called continue the project. And that basically means they delay voting on it, they push it back. And most times when, when that happens, there's a specific future date where they say, OK, this project is gonna come back at this date. But the most recent commission meeting they basically said if we're gonna just continue this indefinitely. So, so we don't know, it's kind of in limbo. It's, it's likely going to come back in front of them at some point. But we, again, we just don't have a date. It could be months, it could be a year, it could be a few weeks. We don't know.

BRODIE: Sure, interesting. All right. That is Sam Kmach of the Arizona Republic. Sam, good to talk to you. Thank you.

KMACK: Thank you.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.