Don’t Even Think About Fighting Phoenix City Hall Unless You’re a Good Old Boy

Miriam Hayenga isn't your typical developer.

For the most part, the Valley's earth-movers and shakers tend to be conservative white guys. Hayenga's not just female — she's a lesbian.

And that's not all.

Miriam Hayenga (left) and her partner, Mary Slaughter.
Jamie Peachey
Miriam Hayenga (left) and her partner, Mary Slaughter.
Hayenga points to the six acres that she'd hoped to develop into an extension of the Hilton Hotel — a plan that's consumed her for nearly nine years and cost her $400,000 in legal costs.
Jamie Peachey
Hayenga points to the six acres that she'd hoped to develop into an extension of the Hilton Hotel — a plan that's consumed her for nearly nine years and cost her $400,000 in legal costs.

They drive giant SUVs; Hayenga favors a sporty VW Bug convertible. They're politically connected; Hayenga is out of the loop. They're into McMansions; she and her partner have lived in the same modest north central Phoenix home for nearly two decades.

But Hayenga, 47, has long been accustomed to playing with the boys. As a girl, she got good enough at tennis to turn pro by taking on her brother — anything he could do, she learned to do better. It never occurred to her that land deals would be any different.

Hayenga thought that she had a simple project, one that required no special favors from the city. Instead, she found herself in a nine-year nightmare. "I was so naive," she says.

Development, as it turns out, is nothing like tennis. In tennis, there are rules, and referees to enforce them. A point doesn't suddenly become a fault. It's about how good you are — not about the people you know.

In the city of Phoenix, development is infinitely more arbitrary. Forget fair play: You're now dealing with double-speaking businessmen, angry neighbors, and lawyers. (Always, inevitably, lawyers.) Rather than referee, the officials down at City Hall seem intent on muddling the process.

Yesterday, they told you that you could build 120 condo units? Ha! You didn't ask the right question. Today, you get only 10. Are you upset? File a lawsuit. Want resolution? Sorry, we can't talk if you're in litigation.

For Hayenga, one simple development plan turned her life haywire. City Hall bungled her case badly enough that former Councilwoman Peggy Bilsten now accuses officials of a "cover-up." Meanwhile, Hayenga says that her lawyer, Paul Gilbert — arguably the Valley's top zoning attorney — talked her into suing a lifelong friend, then left her holding the bag when the trial went south.

Ultimately, Hayenga lost a mentor, a jury verdict, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the deal itself — only to realize in the end that her city had screwed her over, and her own lawyer let them get away with it.

It's been the most excruciating civics lesson imaginable.


It was tennis, indirectly, that led Miriam Hayenga to development.

Hayenga is that rare Phoenix resident: a true native, and one who never really left town. Why should she? She loved — okay, make that loves, in spite of everything — Phoenix.

She grew up in a blue-collar family, the third of four children born to a linesman and a (for the most part) stay-at-home mom. After Squaw Peak Elementary and Camelback High School, Hayenga stuck around for Arizona State University. She was a standout on the women's tennis team there, and for a while after, played the pro circuit.

Hayenga ended up settling right back where she started, in Phoenix, where she and her brother started an event-planning business. In her mid-20s, the young entrepreneur met Mary Slaughter, who ran a small non-profit agency devoted to helping disabled children. The two fell in love, dealt successfully with the familial disapproval, and settled into a quiet, happy life together.

Then came a real business opportunity.

As a teenager, Hayenga had taught tennis lessons at the Pointe at Squaw Peak, later renamed the Pointe Hilton. While there, she got to know Bob Gosnell, the master builder who'd developed that site as well as its sister projects: the Pointe communities at South Mountain and Tapatio Cliffs.

Gosnell was a Phoenix visionary. Not only were his Pointe resorts among the very first high-end resorts built in this desert, he also built developments that were ahead of their time. Instead of the usual strict separation between commerce and residences, Gosnell got city approval for "planned community developments," or PCDs, that featured a mix of hotels and condominiums, tennis clubs and dining facilities. The Pointe projects also benefited from prime location: both Tapatio Cliffs and his development near South Mountain are nestled into some of the city's loveliest mountain ranges.

Thanks to his success as a builder, Gosnell became a larger-than-life presence in the Valley. (As Gosnell recently reminded New Times, this newspaper once depicted him on its cover, in bed with then-Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard.)

Gosnell, as Hayenga is quick to volunteer, was a mentor. In 1996, when Gosnell decided to sell off both the club and the adjacent casual eatery, the Waterin' Hole, he gave her the chance to purchase them.

Ric Williams, current president of Gosnell Builders, tells New Times that Gosnell was willing to sell the property on the cheap because he thought he was helping Hayenga to fulfill her dream: She wanted to own the restaurant, and create a tennis ranch.

"There was no discussion of a condominium project that would result in the demolition of the adobe building which was a historic part of Sunnyslope," he explains.

Hayenga tells it differently. By the '90s, she says, it was clear that tennis' popularity was waning. The Waterin' Hole was a landmark — as Williams notes, it was a lovely old building, rumored to have once been a bordello. But it had real liabilities.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
8 comments
TImothy
TImothy

The city of phoenix developmental services, WHAT A JOKE. No wonder why they are broke. Their left had don't know what their right hand is doing. Everyone of them has a different answer for you and they wiegh everything on whether you are someone everyone likes. If not, good luck.

Thomas Coletto
Thomas Coletto

To the Greater Phoenix Community,

I have come to truly realize that what I was doing for those two months was so terribly wrong. I can't begin to know where to start, but I will try.

After my best friend died of causes which are still unknown, I have had a void in my heart. Nothing in my life was more painful then loosing him, and I think apart of myself died with him.

I will not release his name, because I have already destroyed my name, my families name, my mother, my father, and my grandfather's name. I can only wonder if they will ever truly forgive me for what I have done, and who I associated with.

I associated with true evil, I know this because a member of the NSM Las Vegas Unit, is a self-proclaimed satanist, as is Scott Hume, leader of the Arizona National Socialist Movement.

He has a satanic symbol tattooed on his upper back, the 5 pointed star with a goat head. Why am I telling you this? Because I realized through my own research, how associating with these people was the most damning decision I could have ever made.

I am an Atheist, I chose not to believe in god for my own reasons. Scott tried to push satanism on me, many nights, we would talk over yahoo messenger, and he would ask me to accept a Nazi demon, it was just insane. And he would push it on me. Just as he did to join the NSM. Satan is true evil, and I fell into his trap.

I was indeed influenced, stupid, and I allowed myself to be brainwashed, by people who seemed, so kind, and honest, and true at heart. But I was wrong. I always wondered if they knew I was 1/8th Native American. Would they still have accepted me?

I realized that jewish people, are indeed people, each of us, all of us, including myself have shades of gray. And there are people who are evil. I can't begin to forgive myself for what I did. But I know that the jews were exterminated. I know it because my Grandfather liberated a death camp in WW2. He was in the 26th ID 328th Infantry Regiment. He rarely spoke of WW2 at all, but I remember him telling me that evil people in the war tried to kill an entire people for their belief in god.

I find it hard to look at myself in the mirror, go outside, show my face. I never hated anyone, regardless of my stances on Illegal Immigration. This is fact: I used to HATE Arpaio, because he violates the constitution which I so strongly stand to protect, EVERY day he violates it.

I was not allowed to vote because of my felony, luckily it goes away, once my sentence is up. I tried to VOTE in November, and I did. My name was not removed up until a few months ago. This is the truth, and I was SO proud I even took a cell phone picture.

I voted for Obama, who I now disagree with on most issues, I just never liked McCain. I was a Ron Paul guy.

But I remember the feeling that night, when he won. I felt so proud, because of what happened. History unfolded before my eyes. I voted for, and witnessed history before my eyes, and I was so proud, I remember the warmth I felt in my chest when he spoke after he had become President Elect.

Illegal Immigration is wrong, yes, and I was never for any amnesty. But I felt always that our laws are outrageous, and unfair. We need workers, we need hard workers like them. Especially since this hits so close to home. A very good friend of mine immigrated here from Holland when he was a boy. He was with us when we got arrested for vandalism. He was landed with a permanent felony, and after he serves his probation... He is getting deported, and he can never come back, or visit again.

Not only did my best friend die, but now another close friend is moving away, and I will never see his face again... The last time I saw his was at my best friends funeral. Our group was a strange one, at least people in school thought so. It was me, a kid from Holland, a black Muslim, and a few other guys.

His name was never released (the black muslim), he was tried as a juvuinale, and is now on his way to Harvard. I just wish I could still have a positive future. But I fear that since I was so brainwashed and so stupid, I may have destroyed my life in it's entirety...

You know, I wanted to become a Criminal Defense lawyer, for people who could not afford it. I planned to get my Journalism Degree, and then go to law school. But I also fear now that all of that is lost.

I have done some terrible things, but I can't forgive myself for this mistake. I know I am not evil, I never hated anyone. I grew up in a all white neighborhood in New York, there was one black student in my class. He turned out to be my best friend until I moved here when I was 5. And we still talk occasionally. But I only fear that he google's my name, and then I would loose another life time friend.

The damage I have done to myself, and my family is overwhelming... And my mind was just filled with things, that when I look back and think about them now... How stupid was I. Why did I join them? Why didn't I think? What pain and suffering have I caused?

I thank you for reading this ramble to those of you who did. If you wish to contact me on this matter please do so at thomas.coletto@gmail.com

I hope that at least maybe someone could forgive me, and the mistakes I have made thus far.

Regards,Thomas Vito Coletto

Alexandra Seals
Alexandra Seals

I am as you read this going on a two year fight with city/government and all the good old boys cover up.I am a business owner been relocated by the city on the Automated Train System. After 2 years city has failed. I am still going through planning and all the development for my new site. This is a nightmare and I don�t know how some people get the jobs.To date I don�t know who is making the end decision. Is it Transit, Metro, City or Aviation FAA? All of them just playing a game. Any e-mail to any of the good old Boys, Gordon, Fairbanks, and McCain and or any City council is opened by the staff. There are the once answering your question and or looking into a case. All there getting back are watered down versions of how to cover up there lies, and keep there jobs. I am fighting city Hall, matter of fact Wednesday 3:00PM I will be there demanding some answerers from the good old boys on my case. So I do know how the game is been played.

Lorenzo
Lorenzo

Clearly, larger-scale commercial real estate development...as well as litigating against others when you make sophomoric mistakes...isn't for rank amateurs. Glad she's sticking with tennis & small rentals in the future.

Tormented
Tormented

Wow what a shocker! The City of Phoenix being anything but streight forward and honest? All it takes is for someone, (not even a Lawyer)to look into the details at any of these meetings and they too will see that "cover-up" is a common practice in this City Government. The more you know doesnt always mean you are informed. It only means that you now know too much.

Mike
Mike

The title mentions nothing about her sexual preference, and it is mentioned only in passing at the beginning of the article. Her gender on the other hand, merely indicates that Az's development community is a bunch of good ol' boys. This doesn't mean that she wouldn't have had the same issues if she were a male that just wasn't part of the 'network'... I think you're overreacting on this headline.

hammbone
hammbone

What did any of this have to do with her gender or sexual preference ,as the title of the article suggests? Come on now, don't resort to that to gain readership!

Fly on the Wall
Fly on the Wall

I've worked in some of the largest law firms contract law divisions in the city and the collusion between the attorneys, developers and city planning and zoning is shocking. These people are disgusting and the State's Attorney General should be looking into busting this whole cabal up ASAP!

They've even got the one non-profit that should have been advocating against overdevelopment of our desert mountains in their pocket, the Desert Botanical Garden (aka Mums the Word).

 
Phoenix Concert Tickets
Loading...