Clubbing Wrigley

The Wrigley Mansion's owners want to open a private restaurant with $10 memberships. But its well-connected Biltmore neighbors want no part of cafe society.

Dinner for two would run about $100 with drinks. Men must wear a jacket and, in season, a tie, both in the restaurant and in the bar.

So there won't be a lot of pickup trucks in the parking lot. And the dining room will only seat 50 people at a time--as opposed to the mansion's 750-person legal maximum capacity. And with the current use permit, it will close down by 11 p.m. each night.

"There's not going to be anything different about this place other than there's going to be an additional 50 people in here for lunch or dinner," says Nichols. "Fifty people! That's it. We're not going to increase parking. We're only going to accommodate what we can accommodate."

But nonetheless, the low membership fee is a way to get around zoning, and ABEVA worries that the constant eroding of regulations may eventually lead to rezoning, which they do not want.

And besides, the rules are the rules.

"We could make it a halfway house," Geordie Hormel says without masking the amusement in his voice.

And actually, under the current rules that the residents frequently wave in his face, he could.

The official zoning category is R-5, multifamily residential, meaning that it can have houses and apartments and condominium buildings. But it can also have group and recovery homes, a medical center, a copy center, a hotel or a bank.

The use permit that Western Savings negotiated with ABEVA and the City of Phoenix in 1983 allows the mansion to be a bank branch office. It could also be used as a private club with a restaurant and as a banquet center if the outside verandas were closed in. Limits were set for noise and hours of operation, parking, entrance and exit to the club. Fireworks would only be permitted on July 4; helicopter and balloon ascents and descents were strictly forbidden.

Anything else would require a new use permit or a zoning change. Which is what the Hormels asked for, and they almost reached agreement, at least with the Taliverde homeowners association.

At the beginning of last December, Taliverde sent a letter to ABEVA listing the conditions by which they would consider letting the Mansion Club operate as a public restaurant.

The Hormels would have had to clean up the one vacant lot they hold down the hill. It has an outbuilding on it and both building and grounds are used for storage. ABEVA worries that the Hormels will build condos there. Under the tentative terms of agreement, the Hormels would also have had to deed to the Taliverde association an easement for entry into that lot. At present, that easement appears to be part of a residence's side yard, and by deeding it over, it would block entry into the lot from the Taliverde side.

Furthermore, the Hormels would have had to write new deed restrictions forbidding expansion to the mansion or condos on the vacant lot, and ensure that if they ever sold the building, the new owners would not be able to operate a restaurant there.

The Hormels wanted to rezone the property, but thought that with such an agreement in place with the homeowners associations, they might get special dispensation from the city.

"I could probably get a use permit from the city," Jamie Hormel says, "because when ABEVA's happy, the city's happy."

But in the end, she decided it was too much to give up, because the agreement to run a restaurant might only be granted on a provisional basis.

"I'm not going to give them yet another deed restriction on that property just for the okay to open to the public with their yearly approval of it. We could just sign off on that deed and then a year later they say, 'No, it's not working out and they've got their deed restriction and I've got nothing.'"

Tensions mounted. During an ABEVA meeting, one member claimed that he had tendered an offer to buy the mansion from the Hormels but that he had been turned down. The Hormels denied any serious offers.

The Wrigley Mansion advertised a brunch for Mother's Day with the proceeds going to an organization that helps battered women. And although the use permit explicitly permits charity events at the mansion, ABEVA complained to the zoning department. The zoning department ruled in favor of the mansion.

That was the ultimate deal breaker. The next day, on May 7, Jamie Hormel sent a terse note to ABEVA that said, "You will be pleased to know that we have already initiated our marketing efforts to continue as a private club so further negotiations are unnecessary."

The decision had been made to sidestep official approval of the restaurant by setting the membership for the private club at 10 dollars.

ABEVA claims that the low membership is a sham and would not constitute a "bona fide" private club. The Hormels maintain that there are no statutes that dictate what club dues should be.

So it would seem that the Hormels have the drop on ABEVA, and only pure clout with the city could reverse the situation.

Brian Zemp, the ABEVA attorney, asked the city to yank the mansion's special use permit.

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