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Maurine Karabatsos can't get a line from an old Joni Mitchell song out of her head. "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot," she says, pulling her Porsche Boxster around the corner of Arizona Biltmore Circle toward a construction site that will eventually be a four-story, five-level parking garage for Biltmore partygoers.
Imagine the parking garage at Macy's department store at 24th Street and Camelback -- and add a story. Then place it in a largely residential area -- and imagine the neighborhood's reaction. Particularly this neighborhood, filled with wealthy NIMBYs who guard open space and low rooftops like they guard their stock portfolios.
Remember, these are the people who kept developers from putting houses on the Adobe Golf Course.
In this instance, however, the neighbors may be as powerless as their brokers. The Biltmore is doing nothing illegal. And two levels of the garage are already up. But that's not stopping Karabatsos and other Biltmore residents from launching a campaign to limit the garage to three levels -- even at this late date.
They say their safety, quality of life and property values are at stake.
Arizona Biltmore Circle is narrow, just two lanes, and until now used primarily by the 300 or so home and condo owners who live on the north side of the Arizona Biltmore Resort. No more. When the parking garage is done, many days hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of cars will be in and out of the facility. (The Biltmore is also adding another ballroom, which will only increase the number of guests using the parking garage.)
And views from the nearby Wrigley Mansion and many homes will be obstructed. If the crane poking over the top of the Biltmore hotel is any indication, the garage may even be visible from the main entrance to the resort.
Karabatsos lives in a condo on a Biltmore golf course several blocks from the future garage. It will block out her small view of Wrigley Mansion. She says she and many other area residents had no idea the 49-foot-tall building was to be built until last month, long after the Biltmore had secured building permits and started preparing for construction.
Greg Stanton, the Phoenix city councilman who represents the area, says he learned about the garage at the same time, on October 9, during the annual meeting of the Arizona Biltmore Estates Village Association (ABEVA), the local homeowners group.
Stanton says the garage did not come before the Phoenix City Council for approval because zoning has been in place for it since the hotel was built. That's the same reason the Biltmore didn't have to jump through any of the usual building hoops, like approval by the local village planning committee or discussion at any public hearings. All zoning requirements were met, Stanton says, and none required any public meetings or notice.
After seeing how upset residents were at the ABEVA meeting, Stanton offered to hold a meeting between neighbors and the Biltmore management to try to appease some of their concerns.
"I view my role as a councilman oftentimes as a mediator of disputes. . . . I do this not with the backing of law, but as a leader of the community," Stanton says.
The meeting with Stanton has yet to happen, but ABEVA and Biltmore officials have met at least once to discuss concerns regarding traffic around the construction site, lighting and noise control.
William Mulvaney, executive director of ABEVA, declined comment, although he did acknowledge that ABEVA has long known all about the parking garage. Steve Ast, manager of the Arizona Biltmore Resort, did not return calls.
Karabatsos says the residents' biggest complaint -- that the parking garage will be far too tall, and create far too much traffic -- has been ignored. She couldn't even get Mayor Skip Rimsza's attention. (His office didn't return New Times' call, either.) So she's taken it upon herself to make sure someone listens.
This week, Karabatsos and others plan to paper the neighborhood with fliers urging residents to fight against the parking garage.
"You can fight City Hall and you can fight the FIVE LEVEL PARKING GARAGE GOING UP IN YOUR BACKYARD," Karabatsos' flier reads. "The Biltmore Hotel sandbagged ABEVA this year and you and I are going to pay for it with lower property values, and up to an additional 3,000 cars a day traveling through our neighborhood."
Mary McClain is among those who will have it the worst. Karabatsos lives in a condominium development around the corner from the parking garage, but McClain's condo is right across the street, in a complex called Biltmore Square. From her front yard, last week, you could hear the sounds of construction. She says it starts at 5 in the morning and goes on 'til 11 at night.
"The noise will go away, but not the building," McClain says. She's offered to help Karabatsos hand out fliers.
"It's going to be a skyscraper," McClain adds. "Can they get trees tall enough to cover it?"
"Not in our lifetime," Karabatsos says.
Steve Dubinka, who lives across the street from McClain, is a local real estate agent. He's lived in his condo since 1995, and says he'd heard there might be a parking garage someday, but was always told it would be two or three stories.
"The height of that garage is ridiculous," he says. "It's just ignoring the people."
Dubinka says people who now have homes up for sale in the area are "getting hammered" when potential buyers see the construction.
"When they hear how big the thing is going to be, they're walking off."