Heard Mentality

How much longer will the city allow the acclaimed museum to disrupt a historic neighborhood's peace and quiet?

The Heard Museum has been a fixture in Phoenix's cultural landscape since 1929.

Home to a world-class collection of Native American art and history, including Barry Goldwater's kachina doll collection, the museum has attracted international attention, drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors and earned millions of dollars in admissions and merchandise sales.

Crowds gather during the recent Indian Market.
Kevin Scanlon
Crowds gather during the recent Indian Market.
A map of the Heard Museum shows the proximity of historic homes and high-rise residential towers to the cultural center's campus.
A map of the Heard Museum shows the proximity of historic homes and high-rise residential towers to the cultural center's campus.

It also sits smack in the middle of one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.

Over the years, the Central Avenue corridor from McDowell Road to Camelback Road has grown to include skyscraper business towers, eclectic restaurants, strip malls and a host of scenic attractions.

Businesses have sprouted east of the museum as well, dotting the Third Street corridor, which bookends the Encanto historic neighborhood.

"The neighborhood, over the years, has struggled to maintain itself," says Richert, a longtime city employee.

The Central Avenue growth, particularly, he says, has encouraged the Heard's solicitation of revenue-making events.

And, to some degree, it's fair to say the neighborhood knew such events might one day be held at the museum.

Many of the residents opposed to the noise, increased traffic and disruption have long supported the facility. Some still volunteer at the museum, leading tours or teaching groups about Native American culture.

Neighbor Paul Bender, who along with Skelly first began asking the Heard to control the noise, is a former Board of Trustees member. He led several museum committees, and was involved in the initial discussions about how to expand the Heard's campus.

"That's one reason we bought this house," Bender says of his palatial 1920s historic dwelling that sits directly behind the museum. "Because we were so involved in the museum."

Bender, an Arizona State University law professor, says he remembers the board talking about the Heard obtaining a liquor license to make some extra money if private events occurred.

However, he says, "nobody said we're going to do it five nights a week."

Bender left the board before the expansion was finalized.

When museum officials pitched the 50,000-square-foot expansion project to city zoning administrators in July 1997, there was no mention of using the museum for private events. The proposed expansion included an auditorium, a large open courtyard and a sprawling amphitheater that looks out onto Central Avenue.

At the time, the museum said it needed the extra space for "educational purposes," according to city documents. It even secured a parking variance, reducing the number of parking spaces on site to 279, even though more than 1,100 parking spaces were required.

The only stipulation placed on the museum was that it hire security to route traffic away from the Encanto neighborhood, specifically Alvarado Street.

City documents do not reflect any discussion about how the facility would be used. Nor is there any indication that the museum asked whether zoning for the expansion included any restrictions. The expansion area is zoned for commercial use. City code does not allow any outdoor use in a commercial zone.

Sheryl Sculley, an assistant city manager, also was on the board of trustees at the time. She doesn't recall anyone asking about what uses might be allowed or prohibited.

"There was discussion about increasing private activities because the demand was there," says Sculley, who spent about nine years as a trustee. "I don't remember being told, 'Hey, we've got to get different zoning.'"

At the time, no one probably envisioned the extent of the demand that was to come.

The problem began almost immediately after the expansion opened in 1999.

Bender was one of the first to complain about loud noise emanating from the museum's new air-conditioning unit, which was attached to the new building.

The first of what has grown into a large stack of letters was written to the museum.

By 2000, however, the letters were addressing other concerns, primarily the increasing number of private events held at night on museum grounds.

One of the chief complaints focused on catering trucks that set up near the museum's rear entrance, on the east side of the building, directly in front of a row of five historic houses. A block wall and minimal vegetation separate these houses from the museum's parking lot.

Neighbors complained that catering crews were preparing food outdoors, which also is prohibited in a commercial zone. They wrote letters detailing the aroma of food that wafted into their backyards.

The museum since has built a kitchen where catering crews can prepare meals. Director Frank Goodyear Jr. says no food is prepared outdoors anymore, except during special events such as the Indian Market.

Neighbors also complained about noise caused by the catering crews once events ended. They cited examples of buses and trucks idling in the rear parking lot for hours, both before and after events.

"The 'tear-down' process by the caterers is extremely loud and goes on sometimes until 2 in the morning," Skelly and Bender wrote in a December 2000 letter to the city zoning administrator. "It's like living next door to a Greyhound terminal with a bar."

At the time, the city's Neighborhood Services Department had received one complaint about the museum.

"From my point of view, the Heard has done everything humanly possible to be good neighbors," says Jim Meenaghan, the museum's current trustee president. "We've been open to any and all suggestions."

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