Features March 2020

Scottsdale Legal Eagle Puts Focus on Family, Music, Art and Comedy

There is busy, and then there is Ben Graff, a Scottsdale husband and father of two girls – Madison and Sophia – under age 7.

Within the legal industry, he is known as a successful zoning attorney with Quarles & Brady LLP. Graff authored one of the first Planned Unit Development applications approved by the City of Phoenix and has become one of the preeminent attorneys furthering creative downtown infill development. He has not shied away from the more unique land use cases, having secured the necessary approvals for Arizona’s largest utility-scale solar plant. He is also about to complete almost a decade of work focused on turning a prior landfill at the south west corner of 101/202 in Tempe into a vibrant mixed use development, and has vast experience zoning and entitling projects throughout Arizona. Other projects where Graff has gained zoning approvals include luxury multi-family, senior living, affordable housing, single-family, industrial uses, office, and mixed-use developments.

Within the community, he is known for both his civic and volunteer roles, which are plentiful. First, in 2019 he was elected to the Valley Partnership Board of Directors, an advocacy group for responsible development in Arizona.

“Through this work, I am able to advocate for the interests of the Valley’s real estate industry and its partners to help all of us in responsible, sustainable economic development,” says Graff.

Valley Partnership, however, is not Graff’s first foray into advocacy.

“Currently, I serve as an elected official. I am in the midst of a six-year term on the Central Arizona Water Conservation District Board, which oversees 40% of Arizona’s water supply from the Colorado River,” says Graff, who also serves as a Regent Emeritus with the Arizona Board of Regents.

In each of these varied roles, Graff has a reputation for building bridges.

“People assume my role as an attorney is adversarial, but it is really about building bridges,” says Graff. “And I’ve often used humor to build them.”

And that’s where the comedy comes in.

Beyond the city council chambers where votes get you the win, Graff has now appeared at the Tempe Improv and Desert Ridge’s CB Live, where the laughs determine your fate.

“I first got on stage in 2018. I held my own,” says Graff, who has performed a few times since.

And while his performances won’t cement him a place alongside the likes of Jerry Seinfeld or Eddie Murphy, actual cement is earning him a new role as an artist, thanks to his kids.

“The most important title in my world is ‘daddy’ to Madison and Sophia. They will tell you my most important titles are chief fort builder and foreman of Lego construction.  Admittedly, I love those ‘jobs’ since I am a total tinkerer. That’s how the art actually started,” says Graff. “I wanted to make my wife cement hand prints of our daughters for Christmas three years ago,” says Graff. “Once done, of course I started tinkering with the leftover materials.”

Before he knew it, Graff was sculpting the cement. Today, he has both a series of magnetized cement art and a series of cement planters which together mimic a downtown skyline.

“The fact that my wife says she ‘has never seen anything like them before’ continues to be interpreted as a compliment,” says Graff.

With a plate so full, especially with all of the fort building and Legos, certainly Graff ends his various pursuits there, right?

Not by a longshot.

He also happens to be a graduate of Valley Leadership Class XXXI, member of the Phoenix Chapter of Lambda Alpha International (Land Economics Society), part of the inaugural graduation class from the Flinn/Brown Foundation Leadership Academy and on the board for Kids at Hope.

According to Graff, Kids at Hope dates back to 1993 when a group of youth development practitioners expressed concern and distress about the use and abuse of the term youth “at risk.”

“Rightly so, these pioneers realized our society might have unwittingly stereotyped an entire generation with an expression or label that unfortunately devalues them,” says Graff. “The coining of the term Kids at Hope generated great interest not only in the community based youth development field but also in education, recreation and law enforcement as well.”

Today, Kids at Hope gives school districts the tools to cultivate an environment where all children can succeed. They have programs to help motivate kids and build their self-worth despite behavioral, physical or family-related challenges.

“Beyond hope, we are giving tangible tools to educators and students to help change their lives forever,” says Graff.

Oh, and because sleep is something Graff clearly does not crave, when he can, he is also a musician! www.quarles.com

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