Crack Addicts, Political Shenanigans and Indian Relics

Only in Phoenix is this a formula for a real estate hustle

Cardon did not return a phone call seeking comment.

How much money Cowley stands to make on the homeless campus land flip remains to be seen. He purchased the property for $1.2 million and the county has already budgeted $2 million to buy the land.

A court ruling April 30 gave the county possession of the land. Cowley has six months to vacate the property. The purchase price of the land, however, will be determined in a jury trial sometime in the next two years.

Homeless Shelter Land Play -- The homeless services project has grown from encompassing six acres of city- and county-owned land between 12th and 13th avenues south of Madison Street to include an additional 7.8 acres owned by Cowley. Meanwhile, Maricopa County does not plan to utilize two acres of county land north of Madison Street that is now parking for homeless-shelter and health-care-clinic employees.
Todd H. Lillard
Homeless Shelter Land Play -- The homeless services project has grown from encompassing six acres of city- and county-owned land between 12th and 13th avenues south of Madison Street to include an additional 7.8 acres owned by Cowley. Meanwhile, Maricopa County does not plan to utilize two acres of county land north of Madison Street that is now parking for homeless-shelter and health-care-clinic employees.
Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox isn't concerned that the county is acquiring land owned by a friend of Supervisor Stapley.
Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox isn't concerned that the county is acquiring land owned by a friend of Supervisor Stapley.

Cowley has rejected the government's offer of $1.475 million for land he secured with a mere $25,000 down payment. He anticipates a perfectly legal windfall in the courts and has taken steps to ensure his good fortune.

Cowley has hired condemnation attorney Dale Zeitlin to argue his case.

Zeitlin brings a strong track record when it comes to county condemnation cases. He won a $4.7 million judgment ($54 per square foot) for two acres condemned to build Bank One Ballpark 12 blocks due east of the lumber yard. The county had offered only $900,000 for the ballpark land.

Since purchasing the land nearly two years ago, Cowley has been transferring large amounts of construction materials, school buses and other equipment to the site, says neighbor David Therrien.

"A lot of that stuff has come in recently," Therrien says.

County supervisors -- including Stapley -- approved a March 6, 2002, resolution requiring the county to pay Cowley not only for the land, but also for the costs associated with relocating property from the site.

The resolution gives Cowley the option of selling the equipment -- some of which is in an obvious state of disrepair -- to the county.


Cowley's lumber yard property is one of three parcels the county wants to link together to create the homeless project -- which the county likes to refer to as a "campus."

The county already owns four acres between 12th and 13th avenues straddling Madison Street. The property includes a 400-bed homeless shelter operated by Central Arizona Shelter Services, the county-funded Healthcare Clinic for the Homeless south of Madison and a fenced parking area to the north. Both providers would be included in the project.

The City of Phoenix owns a vacant 4.6-acre lot immediately to the south of the county land that extends to the railroad tracks paralleling Harrison Street. The city is prepared to give the land to the county for the project.

Cowley's 7.8-acre site extends from Ninth Avenue west to 12th Avenue and lies generally between the railroad tracks and Jackson Street.

Linked together, the L-shaped property would encompass more than five city blocks in downtown Phoenix.

Plans to consolidate a handful of downtown homeless services scattered across four blocks into a more compact, less visible area have been actively discussed since the mid-1990s.

Some interests -- primarily downtown business groups -- wanted the homeless moved out of the downtown area. Sites near Maricopa County's Durango Jail complex were frequently suggested. But those suggestions never went anywhere.

Landscape architect Michael Dollin -- who has worked on a series of homeless studies for nearly a decade -- says plans to move the homeless shelter facilities out of the downtown area never materialized because of the difficulty of relocating the shelter and other homeless service providers into a new area.

"A lot of us realized that you will never get anything located anywhere if you physically try to uproot this thing," he says. "There would be too much opposition."

Dollin pointed to massive neighborhood resistance to Phoenix's effort to open a winter overflow shelter in a south Phoenix industrial area about 10 years ago. The shelter opened, but with strict limitations on when it can be used.

"No one seemed to have any desire to go out and fight that battle again," Dollin says.

But in early 2000, business interests, led by the Phoenix Community Alliance, once again began advocating relocating the homeless shelter and support services out of the downtown area. The Arizona Republic published an editorial in April 2000 suggesting that a homeless campus be created near 27th Avenue and Buckeye Road -- not far from an old landfill.

The renewed attempt to move the homeless out of downtown created an immediate backlash.

St. Vincent de Paul executive director Steve Zabilski says his charity has operated a free dining hall at Ninth Avenue and Madison Street since 1954 and had no interest in moving away from downtown.

The Republic editorial spurred St. Vincent de Paul to resurrect plans to rebuild its dining room. The charity made it publicly known that it had no intention of leaving downtown.

"There was a real rich history and tradition there," Zabilski says. "It was not our desire to move."

St. Vincent de Paul's opposition to moving out of the area was significant. The charity serves 800 free lunches a day. The homeless begin lining up for meals by midmorning. The line stretches east down Madison Street, snaking beneath the shadows of the county's new morgue and 700-space parking garage.

There would be no point in building a new homeless campus elsewhere if St. Vincent de Paul was going to continue serving free lunches and attracting hundreds of homeless into the downtown area.

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