What a Butte!

Developers and anti-growth activists want a piece of Tempe's mythical mountain

So far, the commission's process has done more to protect the developers than it has to protect the Butte. The commission has downplayed the more difficult issues surrounding development of the Butte, reducing a thick pile of public comments to a two-page summary. At the direction of the city's development services department, the commission also has resisted including a "no-build" option for the city council to consider -- something opponents have repeatedly urged.

"Basically a bunch of people complained," says Scott Burge, vice chair of the commission, who ran unsuccessfully for city council this year and considers the commission's approach skewed toward development. "So the city did something. But they did it by ignoring everything the people had to complain about."

Water tanks mar the southern flank of the Butte
Paolo Vescia
Water tanks mar the southern flank of the Butte
Ted Claassen says his company's development on the Butte could improve public access to some of the mountain's trails
Leah Fasten
Ted Claassen says his company's development on the Butte could improve public access to some of the mountain's trails

The Butte is hardly an icon of pristine nature. Ancient Indians buried their dead there and etched its stones with pictographs. They terraced and tromped all over its slopes. And ever since Charles Hayden, the founder and first developer of modern Tempe, clambered to the top in the late 1860s so he could scout out a spot to build a town and launch a ferry service across the flowing Salt River, modern Tempeans have found a variety of ways to put the mountain to use. They've stamped it with an "A," painted, blasted and quarried it. They've ridden horses, bicycles, motor bikes, trucks, cars and steel-wheeled trains all over it and stitched its flanks with railroad tracks. The construction of Sun Devil Stadium blew out the entire eastern end of the Butte. The old flour mill, water tanks, broadcast antennas and park trails mar other parts of the mountain.

ASU owns the eastern chunk of the Butte. Tempe claims most of the remaining portion, except the acreage where Hayden Ferry South is planned. The development site includes city land and the parcel owned by Benton/Robb and Bay State Milling.

Opponents of Hayden Ferry South are concerned development might limit or cut off access to the Butte and further degrade what many residents consider one of the city's genuine -- though long mistreated -- treasures.

Geologists bring thousands of students a year to study the history and character of its outcroppings. And thousands of other people huff and puff their way to the summit for no reason other than to watch the sun rise or set.

"When I was up there yesterday," says Martelli, "the sunset was beautiful. The creosote bushes were blooming. It smelled just wonderful.

"Why are we giving that up for an office building?"

MCW officials say their proposed development would not affect access to the Butte.

"In fact, we're hoping to design the buildings and walkways so they could improve access to some of the trails," says Ted Claassen, part-owner of the Tempe firm.

MCW has built a number of successful projects in Tempe's downtown redevelopment area and has a track record of sensitivity to historical details.

The firm renovated the Laird and Dines building -- better known as the Hooters building -- at the southeast corner of Fifth Street and Mill Avenue. It also produced the Gordon Biersch building, also at Mill and Fifth. More recently, it has been building the Brickyard and Orchidhouse projects, farther south on Mill.

The approved plan for Hayden Ferry South featured two- and three-story buildings that faced Mill Avenue adjacent to the flour mill.

"There were two purposes behind that plan," says Claassen. "One was to open everyone's eyes up to the density that was possible on that site. Second was to establish a line that showed where the cut into the Butte would be necessary."

The scheme included stores, movie theaters, restaurants, some limited office space and a small hotel -- about 40 rooms. But it had no housing -- something urban planners and designers consider essential for vital downtowns.

Last summer's revised plan changed that in a big way. Among other things, its approximately 1.2 million square feet would have included a condominium tower with about 300 residences and another 50,000 square feet in retail space. Two- and three-story office and retail buildings would have occupied another 500,000 square feet on an additional 2.5 acres of adjacent city-owned property.

"We brought in an interior road to create a small-town feel with residences above stores," says Claassen. The plan, he adds, would have produced a miniature city inside downtown and "created the kind of energy that retailers are crying for. They want traffic."

The urban rationale for Hayden Ferry South is fairly obvious. Its mixture of stores, offices and housing is a throwback to older cities, where people lived above shops and businesses. It would create a 24-hour atmosphere in the area, says Dave Fackler, deputy director of Tempe's development services department, which oversees all development downtown outside the Rio Salado area. "So there's always someone going through the entrances of the buildings. There's always someone in the windows looking onto the street. It creates a safer, more lively downtown area."

Hayden Ferry South would also extend what developers and planners call "The Mill Avenue Experience" down to the river, linking the booming area around the university with the emerging one at the lakefront.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets