LITTLE DREAD SCHOOLHOUSE
James Jorquez has been caught up in the gusts of his wife's passion for historic homes. They've lived in some of Phoenix's older houses in some of the city's older neighborhoods, places like Willo and Story and now Roosevelt, a spring afternoon's walk from the original downtown core.
About eight years ago, June Jorquez was driving down Fourth Avenue just south of Roosevelt Street when she heard this big Craftsman bungalow with a Cadillac of a porch calling to her.
To the people living in it at the time, it was just a house, and a shambles of a house at that, says James Jorquez, a former professor of social work at Arizona State University. But not to June, who had spiffed up their previous homes with amazing makeovers. "She's able to see the potential," James says. The couple bought the house six months later.
It was 1987, a time when a lot of people were seeing potential in the historic Roosevelt neighborhood. It was a time when anything seemed possible in Phoenix, even revitalization of the blighted areas close to downtown. Revitalization was a concept pushed hard by then-mayor Terry Goddard, who lived in the neighborhood and envisioned its tree-shaded streets and quaint, multistyled houses preserved in time and complemented by condos and commerce.
That vision never materialized.
The Roosevelt renaissance anticipated by Goddard and those who bought into the dream vanished in the poof of an oversaturated real estate market. Gone, too, were the plans of developers and redevelopers whose projects clashed with the visions of the neighborhood and Goddard's preservation-minded city.
What remains is a patchwork of restored homes and converted, stately apartment buildings flowering among the weeds of burned-out crack houses and paint-starved apartments. In the mixed-use areas south of Roosevelt Street, vagrants wander the roads. Hookers sashay on sunny weekend afternoons near majestic Trinity Cathedral, while down the street, renovated bungalows play neighbor to boarded-up, pigeon-infested Victorians. Roosevelt has continued rotting along the edges--especially its southern edge.
And while the neighborhood drifts listlessly into further disrepair, the residents and their most notable representative, Terry Goddard, have decided to oppose the only sure-fire improvement project to come down the pike in a long time--construction of a school planned on a long-vacant swath of land.
Foes say a new school isn't in the neighborhood's long-term vision. Schools stunt property values, they say. Schools scare away residential development. Schools attract crime. They increase traffic.
If you put a school in, you take away room for housing, which is what the neighborhood has coveted for a decade.
And so Goddard is quietly pushing an effort to derail the Phoenix Elementary School District's plan to build a new campus in the heart of the neighborhood for Magnet Traditional School, whose students rank highest in the district and among the state's best since it opened five years ago. Roosevelt property owners have been clamoring for new investment for years, but about the only thing they've fully developed is an appetite for obstruction. In the mid-1970s, they wrestled the biggest beast of them all, the Papago Freeway. That fight spawned the Roosevelt Action Association, which battled the Papago as it hacked its way across town, demolishing hundreds of homes and threatening numerous others. The group's efforts, as well as then-mayor Goddard's regard for historic preservation, prompted the city to designate Roosevelt as a historically protected area in 1986.
The Roosevelt Action Association lives on today, and June Jorquez is on its board. The 1912 bungalow she and her husband bought south of Roosevelt Street was home to Phoenix's city manager at the time Arizona became a state. It has a porch swing and high ceilings; wide apertures connect its rooms. The kitchen sports an ancient refrigerator and stove, both working, in a hardwood setting reminiscent of an Iowa farmhouse.
The Jorquezes can't understand why the Roosevelt Action Association changed its mind about the school after giving the project its blessing five months earlier. Or why the school board itself is going haywire over the issue. Or why some feel the targeted school site is so crucial that it's worth spurning the most positive development proposed there in years. Then again, they live south of Roosevelt, which is less gentrified. The north-south division is well-known in the neighborhood.
Magnet Traditional, currently housed at 2535 North 24th Avenue, is a school of choice. The Jorquezes' granddaughter, Amanda Duke, is a fourth-grader there, picked for admission through a lottery designed to reflect the district's ethnic makeup, which is primarily Hispanic. The school's curriculum centers on the basics of reading, writing and math. The school features a longer school day, extended academic year, school uniforms and mandatory parental involvement. It is what some view as the future of schools in Arizona.
James Jorquez says it took one visit two years ago to Amanda's class at Kenilworth, the district's Roosevelt neighborhood school, to decide she'd be better off somewhere else. One visit to discipline-minded Magnet Traditional convinced him he was right.
What is so sacred about this acreage at Third Avenue and Roosevelt? James Jorquez isn't a developer. He's just a working guy, he says, a grunt. As a school campus, he says, "That acreage can have more positive impact on the welfare of the neighborhood than any high-rise or anything. Human gold will be coming out of there."
But as it turns out, his fellow residents--including Goddard, who twice ran for governor as a visionary friend to education--are some of the biggest NIMBYs in town.
Says James: "His dream ain't like our dream, that's for sure."
Parents made Magnet Traditional School what it is. They got it started as a pilot program. Their lofty requests reaped perks sometimes resented by others around the district. They are parents who by design are involved in the school's operation. Built into Magnet Traditional's very existence, then, has been the confidence that parents can get what they want by making intelligent noise.
Their efforts have paid off. When Magnet Traditional was founded in 1990, more than half of its pupils were performing below their grade levels. All of them were above grade level by the end of the first year, and they since have achieved 90th percentile success on proficiency exams.
The school relocation issue didn't just drop out of nowhere. In January 1994, the Phoenix Elementary School Board asked Superintendent Pat Williams to put together parent-teacher-administrator committees to oversee improvements for Magnet Traditional and Capitol schools, both of which were included in a $29 million bond proposal passed by voters two months later.
Asked to oversee expansion of the 250-student Magnet Traditional, which had amassed a 200-student waiting list, the committee suggested to the school board that its task include exploring more central locations. Being a magnet program, most of its students are bused in from all over the 9,000-student district, bounded roughly on the north by Thomas Road and on the south by the Salt River; the eastern boundary is 16th Street, the western 27th Avenue. The school's current site is near the district's northwestern boundary.
"The whole premise was, 'We have the opportunity to build a school,'" says Magnet Traditional principal Velia Juarez. "`We should take advantage of that by investigating new sites.'"
The committee methodically chose a realtor and an architectural firm, then evaluated 13 potential sites and brought its recommendations to the board.
The committee's top choice for relocation was at the northeast corner of Third Avenue and Roosevelt Street, a key intersection in the Roosevelt neighborhood and site of the historic but long-shuttered Gold Spot market, built in 1925.
The old market is the cornerstone of a 4.25-acre collection of abandoned buildings and vacant lots that have haunted Talley Industries ever since the company bought the property in the mid-1980s. The committee also had its eye on adjacent properties--a privately owned, abandoned apartment building and an old bishop's residence owned by the Episcopal Diocese.
"The board said, 'If you can make it work, go for it,'" Juarez says.
That meant negotiating a reasonable price and procuring the support of the necessary city departments, landowners and the Roosevelt Action Association.
As far as Frank Molinar--president of Magnet Traditional's parent-teacher organization--was concerned, the site was perfect: a central location and a good educational atmosphere with the new public library and planned Japanese Gardens nearby. "It's an ideal place for this school to flourish and bring people into the central city," Molinar says.
On top of that, the district could get the land for cheap: Talley was willing to sell for $700,000, a fraction of what the firm paid for it in the merriment of the mid-'80s. Along with the two other properties--$225,000 for the apartment building and $551,000 for the Episcopal Diocese property--the purchase would run less than $1.5 million, or about $1 million less than the $2.5 million set aside for land acquisition in last year's bond passage.
The magnet-school issue first came before Roosevelt residents in November, although Roosevelt Action Association president Nancy Welch had been privy to the committee's site-selection process since June 1994. According to notes of the Action Association's November 30 meeting, Welch raised concerns about the school project, including proposed elimination of the landmark Portland Parkway, adherence to original development plans for the site and what might happen to the Gold Spot building.
Voting was opened to all present, including nonmembers. After turning down the plan as proposed, the group voted 16-5 to support the project as long as it left intact the historic Portland Parkway, which bounds the site on the north. It also voted overwhelmingly to suggest the district reexamine the parcel ranked fourth by the site committee--a county-owned parking lot at Fifth Avenue and Fillmore, on the neighborhood's southern flank.
In December, given notice of support from all circles, the PESD school board voted to purchase the Talley property. Magnet Traditional, the district's crown jewel, was on its way downtown.
The Roosevelt neighborhood has tormented developers before.
As mayor, Terry Goddard encouraged Talley Industries to come into the area during the height of the 1980s boom with the glittering Oz-speak of revitalization. So Talley spent a couple of million to do just that.
"He [Goddard] wanted people to come redevelop in that area," says Scott O'Connor, head of Talley's real estate division from 1987 to 1991 and now with Monitor Real Estate. "Talley bought it thinking, 'Great--we'll be great citizens and do redevelopment here.' They thought it would be a great PR move, but then it turned out to be the other way around."
Talley bought up the land at Third Avenue and Roosevelt, where it planned an office building. Of all the lots it assembled, only one would require rezoning for the project. There were other places Talley could have spent its money, but right here in the mayor's own neighborhood, this would be something special.
"Then," O'Connor says, "the neighborhood said, 'We want it all residential.'" The ensuing fight sent Talley's plans spinning into numerous modifications, but by then, the market had collapsed. The opposition seemed to come out of nowhere. "That was a huge surprise," O'Connor says. "[Talley] lost a bundle on it."
Asked about the parcel's sale to the school district, Dan Mullen, a spokesman for Talley, which is closing out its real estate operations, says, "We got an offer. It was a lot less than we paid in the mid-'80s when the market was more robust.
"If we had had a better offer, we would have taken it."
Across the street to the south of the Talley parcel--just beyond the renovated Federal Revival-style office building that today houses the law offices of Goddard & Goddard--Ralph Rockow of Exodyne Inc. was collecting property a piece at a time for his own project. He figured the whole area was looking up, from Deck Park all the way downtown. "People had great thoughts of grandeur," he remembers now.
He had eight or nine lots, he can't remember. He wasn't a professional developer, just a lone wolf out there with ideas and the money to back them up. His plan was to put in a high-rise on the property he owned between Second and Third avenues north of McKinley, retail on the bottom with apartments on top, real high-end stuff. Of course, that would mean tearing down the six historic homes that were in his way. But he'd have an architect come in and design something the whole area could be proud of.
However, the city, which under Goddard's leadership had created an Office of Historic Preservation in 1985, wasn't about to let that happen. With neighborhoods like Roosevelt and Willo leading the way, historic designations were plunked down and a historic overlay zoning prescribed for the area, which prevented landowners from demolishing structures for a year after applying for the permit.
Just before Rockow's year was up, the city condemned his property and took it off his hands for a healthy $16.75 a square foot. "I made good money," Rockow admits. As for his plans, "I wrote it off as just being in the wrong place in the wrong time."
It was a muscle-rippling demonstration of the Goddard administration's commitment to historic preservation.
With its newly condemned property, Phoenix planned to put up new offices for its real estate department on the vacant lots adjoining McKinley, then to renovate the homes and lease them out as office space. But the push for a new city hall took center stage. Money ran out.
Nothing ever got built there.
Rockow says he still drives past the site from time to time to see if it's fallen into some other entrepreneur's hands.
"I think I got caught up in the same thing as Talley," he says. "Terry Goddard had a home very close to those properties. He was very much a promoter for historical things. If they had left Talley alone, they would have developed from Deck Park down to Roosevelt. I would have done from there south. But it all died.
"The problem is, when anyone comes in there, we're looked at as someone who's messing up the norm."
And the norm isn't all that good, notes former land developer Stan Cook, who drew the ire of Goddard and the city when he razed seven homes he owned on East Portland Street in 1987. Cook had gotten word that the restrictive historic overlay was imminent. After a fire broke out in one of the deteriorating homes, he got spooked by the potential costs of having to ensure their historic preservation, so he had them slaughtered.
"Anybody who comes down there," says Cook, now with Landis Aerial Photo, "and is willing to put money up for the properties at market rates gets screwed. Afterward. It's not done ahead of time, in an aboveboard manner. And everyone gets screwed. Including me."
And yet, Stan Cook is not the only one who has demolished buildings in the vicinity. There were other properties that Goddard could not save, including a number of apartment buildings down Third Avenue on the west.
One of those buildings was described in historic-preservation records as "neither historically nor architecturally significant." However, the summary noted that the Tudor Revival-style building contributed to the area in terms of its age, style and architectural integrity, integrity being a key factor.
Phoenix historic preservation officer Deborah Abele explains: A building can't just be old and of a given style; it has to be sound enough to convey its historical associations.
She says the description of the apartment building "tells me that is something that is, in fact, significant."
Or at least it was, because it's no longer there. The building was mowed down and turned into a parking lot around 1985. The property was later acquired by a partnership that includes Goddard's parents, Julia and former governor Sam. The lot now serves the nearby offices of Goddard & Goddard.
The Papago Freeway blasted through the Period Revival, Prairie, Late Victorian and Southwestern vernacular-style homes of the Roosevelt neighborhood and left a scar on Phoenix's history. This was an area once frequented by the Hollywood likes of Bogart, Gable and Lombard, Crawford and Flynn. The interstate tore a solidly residential area in two and further relegated the mixed-use section south of Roosevelt Street to stepsister status.
As a concession for the freeway trauma, residents were given Margaret T. Hance Park, or Deck Park. The park, many say, was meant to draw residential development to make up for all the lost houses. Someday.
The historic homes that remain in the neighborhood were built between 1897 and 1937. They sheltered influential people of the day, and a smattering of power players has remained.
The Phoenix office of recently retired U.S. senator Dennis DeConcini was located at 323 West Roosevelt.
Terry Goddard lives in a restored home at Fifth Avenue and Portland, and has purchased the former OK Community building to the south, on Roosevelt, to be saved as an office building.
Three Phoenix Elementary School District board members--president Mary Carr, former president Bill Scheel and clerk Jesus Escarcega--live there.
The Lynnwood Street home of Roosevelt Action Association president Nancy Welch is your basic 1919 bungalow, one she and her husband have been renovating since the late 1980s, although they didn't officially move in until a couple of years ago.
The Talley land, Welch concedes, has been vacant for some time, but she believes a turnaround is definitely in store for the neighborhood, what with a baseball stadium planned downtown, with Arizona Center and the new library.
Why the opposition from the association? Welch believes the neighborhood is too close to its dream to let it slip away now. The official plan for the school's property can finally be realized. That plan calls for commercial or residential use.
The plan Welch refers to is the Roosevelt Special District Plan, hammered out in the mid-'80s by neighborhood residents with help from Jan Hatmaker of the city's planning department. The "special district," curiously enough, does not include the area south of Roosevelt. The city council approved the plan in 1989, while Goddard was still mayor. And it does indeed suggest a high priority for commercial or residential development at the site.
Of course, commercial development was what Talley sought, until it discovered that what the plan meant was apparently just residential. Now that the school district has made its own good-faith effort to head onto the site, it's hearing the same refrain.
Schools are nice, Welch says, but "what is important is that people see the commercial and residential as contributing more to the revitalization of the neighborhood."
Schools are nice, but please, not in our backyard. Not now.
Randy Walsh, a seven-year resident and one of the early opponents of the school, is more specific: Putting the school there would cripple property values for residents of Portland Street from Third Avenue to Seventh Avenue. Why? Because those Portland houses are the only solid bloc of residential properties south of the freeway, and the neighborhood sees the school site as crucial for the additional housing needed for survival--and bolstering of property values.
"I've waited seven years, and obviously, I'm willing to wait longer," he says. Walsh explains that he was drawn into the neighborhood by the promises that Deck Park would generate the kind of infill housing that would revive the area.
He has Rockwellian images of strolling down the street to buy cold cuts at a rejuvenated Gold Spot market, maybe a game of boccie at Deck Park where condo residents would roam on sunny Saturday afternoons. Put a school there, kill your chances. Who wants to put up condos next to a school?
The area needs revitalization, he says. The city came in some time ago, took away the historic streetlights and never replaced them. Who ever heard of a historic neighborhood where you couldn't walk around at night? People on medication from the neighborhood's halfway houses, knocking on his doors all the time. He calls the cops five, six times a week for all kinds of stuff.
"What is the school gonna add?" he says, pointing out that residents aren't even guaranteed that their kids can get into the school. "The more of my neighbors who live around here, the more of a chance of my neighborhood becoming safer, and my being able to walk around."
Joan Kelchner, a longtime resident and downtown activist, is one of the Rooseveltians who believes the school could spur further development.
"This is the muddiest NIMBY situation that you've ever seen," Kelchner says. ". . . The whole area has been vacant. Everybody has been unhappy with the way it looks. There've been vagrants, transients. We haven't had anything else to go there."
But like Welch, Kelchner also believes the downtown stigma is evaporating. Developers are waiting for the signal. One developer, in fact, already is planning luxury apartments on Culver between Third and Fifth avenues, and she is heading the committee to monitor that development.
"A really good school like the magnet school is a good use for the [Third Avenue and Roosevelt] land," Kelchner says. "And yet--it's coming at the same time as we're starting to see interest in other areas."
But plenty of folks find it hard to believe that anything significant will happen soon. Witness the county's attempted sale two weeks ago of its six-acre parking lot at Fifth Avenue and Fillmore. The county paid $3.8 million for it and offered to sell it for $450,000, 12 cents on the dollar.
"I'm not sure what it is somebody believes is going to move in next week, or next year, or even three or five years from now," says Rick DeGraw, a former campaign manager for Terry Goddard whose office as promotional director for Rio Salado Community College is on the southwest corner of Third Avenue and Roosevelt. "That neighborhood needs assistance. The Gold Spot--to me it's a laugh that it's even on the historic register. If they think that Neiman Marcus is going to move in there and drive up their property values, they're crazy."
Terry Goddard is Roosevelt's most famous resident.
Terry Goddard, RAA president Nancy Welch says, is much closer to the development issues. Terry Goddard, she says, is one of the experts on the special district plan.
Although Goddard has attempted to remain in the shadows on the issue, his influence is apparent. His vision, hopes, dreams, historic bents, home, friends, law offices, property for lease--all bottled up in the Roosevelt neighborhood.
"I believe," he says, "as the neighborhood association does, that this is an area planned for inner-city housing. That was an integral part of the downtown master plan."
At a March school-board meeting, he publicly decried the district's purchase of the land.
After a petition from residents denouncing the selection of the Roosevelt site failed to deter the school board, Goddard was among a group of 14 fresh faces who showed up at April's Roosevelt Action Association meeting, renewed or initiated their RAA memberships on the spot and, in an unannounced vote, rescinded the group's initial support for the project.
It was Goddard who called in ASU history professor Gordon Weiner to hector the school board about how someone might, if he wanted, be able to significantly delay construction by filing a legal challenge under the National Historic Preservation Act. (Weiner claimed to have been instrumental in similar legal holdups of the Papago Freeway and of the scuttled Square One project downtown, and suggested the district cover its rear by taking every environmental and archaeological precaution imaginable.)
It's Portland Street resident Goddard who provides New Times with a copy of a legalistic March 23 letter to school-board president Mary Carr signed "People for Portland Place" and with the signatures of about a dozen residents attached. (Goddard's was not among them.) The letter states, "We intend to use every legal means available to express our opposition."
And it's Goddard to whom questions about threats of a lawsuit against the district are referred by both Carr and RAA president Nancy Welch.
"You've had citizen input, from the neighborhood and from the city, on what the best use would be there for many years," Goddard says. "No matter how good the other purpose might be, you have to weigh that against what was envisioned for that area."
One would think that Goddard, who ran against Fife Symington in 1990 for the mantle of children's governor, would be more open to the idea of a prized elementary school moving two blocks from his home and directly across the street from his office building.
Actually, more than one would think it.
Says Rick DeGraw: "If we were talking about a school that had been plopped down there by an arbitrary decision, that would be one thing. But here you have a parent group that worked a long time to decide to put it there. I think it's unfair. . . . Terry's still a friend of mine, and I think he still has the neighborhood at heart. But the fact is, the decision should be made by parents, those close to the issue, and not by others."
During the '80s, Phil Gordon restored about a dozen historic buildings in Roosevelt. He has worked on Goddard campaigns, and currently serves as an aide to Mayor Skip Rimsza.
Gordon says: "Given the fact that nothing's happened for probably at least six years on that site--and in theory nothing has happened for a dozen years; the fact that the school district is ready to build a quality school that would be sensitive to the area as far as traffic and historical design, I would be in support of it as an individual, because it would be some major development for the area."
Gordon adds that even the bargain-basement price the school district paid for the Talley property would be too pricey for residential developers.
Paul Johnson, Goddard's successor as mayor who is very large on the idea of traditional schools and school uniforms, says: "This is the kind of school I'd want next to my house. Here you have a group of parents trying to work within the system. They're not out there pushing for vouchers or anything like that; they're saying, 'Let's take the existing system and see what we can accomplish.' I'm kind of surprised to see any neighborhood opposition."
Goddard says neighborhood opposition isn't against the concept of the school. "I think everybody wants to see the school built," he says. "We want to work with the school district, but we prefer it be just about anywhere else."
He says ignoring long-range plans, some of which, it should be noted, were his own as Phoenix's visionary former leader, could have citywide reverberations.
Molinar, the school's PTO president, has been hearing that from Goddard for a while now, and to that he says: "The problem with that is that he's had 13 years. . . . I think what's happening is we're upsetting his personal plans for the area."
"The school would definitely be a plus for the area," says Walter Goodman, one of Magnet Traditional's founding parents. "They've had long-range plans for the area, and in that time, nothing has been built. Now the district has gone out and bought the land, and all of a sudden . . . he comes out against the one shining example that exists in that district."
"I think Terry has a noble aspiration for downtown," says former school-board member Sam Ramirez. "I just think that like Don Quixote, his dream is fighting a windmill. I'm not saying he doesn't have hope in the future. But this interim scrimmage is the wrong time, wrong place for a fight. He oughta mark it up and say, 'We've got a school here, let's attract some residents into the downtown area.'"
City Councilmember Cody Williams, who represents the area, doubts a school would scuttle other development plans. It might even jump-start them. "We're only talking about five acres in the whole community," Williams says. ". . . If we're going to be more successful with our infill program, a good school in that area is going to do a lot more in bringing that about. It has been before two [city] subcommittees and we have unanimously agreed that this would add something to the downtown area. The school is the best thing we have going."
As far as a possible lawsuit goes, Goddard says: "I can't speak about that. Certainly, there are legal problems with their choice, but whether I'll be the one to take it to court. . . . What I can do is sketch out what types of problems they're running into. It's a case of public decision that involves a lot of parts, some of them federal. There are obligations to check and double-check."
His plate is too full to be filing lawsuits against school districts right now, but if someone brought the idea to him, he says he'd take a hard look at it.
A lot of school districts these days would be happy to have the kind of parent participation Phoenix Elementary has from those at Magnet Traditional. But board members come and go, and the plurality shifts with them.
So the committee of upstanding parents, teachers and staff that was sent out on its expansion mission returned to find it had become a renegade juvenile delinquent.
Board members Mary Carr and Linelle Kersting are poring over the board minutes, trying to find exactly where the parents were given the authority to do what they did.
With the controversy dividing the neighborhood, some board members have taken the opportunity to nudge their personal preferences to the forefront. They still want the committee's input--but only as long as it tells them what they want to hear.
"A school is succeeding because of parent involvement," says Molinar, a member of the committee. "We've got a whole new breed of parents who believe we can do these things. But [the board now] is like, 'We've got a great school, but the things that made it great, we don't want . . .' Ever since January, they've been trying to undo their own decisions."
A majority of the board is now telling the committee that despite the yearlong search efforts, land purchase and recommendations the board approved of until a few months ago, maybe, given all the problems, the school ought to just stay where it is. The current site was the committee's third choice based on a checklist of district-supplied criteria. It is where Carr has preferred the school stay from the very beginning.
Carr, board member John Carpenter and new member Kersting have delayed groundbreaking with frightened pronouncements about an environmental study commissioned by Talley at the site, just the kind of thing that could prompt one of those nasty lawsuits. The study's results, however, had alarmed neither Talley nor the district official who reviews such documents. It indicates trace contaminants and the possibility of more, given the land's previous tenants. (They included a dry cleaner's drop-off site and an auto repair facility.)
"If you've ever changed your car's oil in your driveway, there's some kind of contamination," says Walter Goodman, who has now launched a recall effort against Carpenter. "We're not talking about Armageddon here."
But Carr, Carpenter and Kersting say they didn't know about the environmental study before March. They accuse the former board president of suppressing it. But O.K. Nutting, the district's assistant superintendent of administrative services, says those claims are ridiculous--the study was provided to his office in November or December and has been sitting there on file for anyone to see. Nevertheless, the board commissioned more extensive studies, with the results showing low levels of contaminants, just what you'd expect at such a site.
"It's typical where you had a gas station in the past," says Hishamm Mahmoud, lead consultant of the board-commissioned study conducted by Dames & Moore. "Most sites in the city will probably have something to deal with, anyway."
But now that the contaminants have been found, they have to be cleaned up, he says. Experts inside and outside government say it could be done fairly easily.
The board continues to fret about federal historical regulations despite assurances from both state and city historic preservation officials that--contrary to Professor Weiner's warnings--it was highly unlikely the school could be deemed a federal project, and that even if it were, the district had already taken the steps necessary to avoid a lawsuit.
"I think historic preservation is just being dragged into this by a couple of factions who have different ideas about the school," says Deborah Abele, the city's historic preservation officer. "I fail to understand the turmoil over all this."
"My concern," says board member Kersting, "is that if we do in fact have a need for a new school, we don't have two or five years to wait to start to build it. If we judge these threats of a lawsuit to be . . . we do think they are valid and they will come to pass. They will try to stop us. They've said at every step of the way they will throw up roadblocks. The time and the lawyers, it almost seems prohibitive. If we really want to get this thing going and built, it might behoove us to look at the original site [on 24th Avenue]."
But board member Bill Scheel says: "Nothing makes me think in the slightest that they have a case. You don't change what you're doing if it's the right thing."
Last fall, Ralph Rockow ran into his old real estate agent at some civic function, and the guy makes some joke about how Rockow could buy his old, still-undeveloped Roosevelt land for about a quarter of the price he got for it.
Turns out the guy wasn't joking.
The city recently sold the land with the six historic houses to two developers, one of them a nonprofit started by Goddard and presided over by school-board member Bill Scheel. That concern, called West Roosevelt Community Development Corp., is renovating two of the houses. The other four were sold to Tamarack Advisory Group, which will renovate the houses as offices one at a time, then have an option to buy the vacant lots on McKinley.
The price? Between $3 and $4 a square foot, according to Abele of the city's historic preservation office. That's about one-fourth what the city paid Rockow after it condemned the land.
The city is also in the process of trying to get a row of houses along Fifth Avenue (the owners are in bankruptcy) as well as a bunch of boarded-up homes on Sixth Avenue owned by foreign investors who, like Rockow, had planned to tear them down.
The school poses little concern to her office, Abele says. Once she determined that the architectural firm hired by the district was committed to incorporating the historic Gold Spot market into its design, the project was given her blessing.
"We've lived through the dust," says Carr, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1969, before the freeway came hurtling through. "We've lived through the debris. We've lived through the noise. Now it's a very nice neighborhood. People can't afford to buy houses here. It's a very desirable place to be."
But for every burnished castle shining along the streets of Culver and Portland and Lynnwood, there are the decrepit others at the neighborhood's frayed edges, reminders of what's in store if Roosevelt waits too long. But like those who came before them, a lot of residents are ready to risk their fortunes on the chance that the dream might once again be possible.
It's a tough call, says Scott O'Connor, the former Talley real estate head. On one hand, the neighborhood can gamble that the school would attract the housing it so covets. On the other, that particular site is the perfect match for that housing.
"In a utopian sense, if you were planning without economic realities involved, you would want high-density housing there. It's perfect for infill--it's close to downtown, it's close to Deck Park and the library," O'Connor says. "The trouble is, when will it be feasible to do that without some massive type of subsidies?"
Rockow, who knows what it's like to come into the neighborhood with an idea only to be shooed away, puts it like this: "You can't pay the bills with great intentions." And with all the money the city has lost on historic preservation, he wonders, is it worth it to taxpayers?
Says Stan Cook, the former developer, who admits he has a pretty big ax to grind: "My complaint with Terry is, he has all these grand visions, but it's on everyone else's dime. Everything he does, he does with grants, or nonprofits, or whatever. And he's being critical of people who are doing things he's incapable of doing himself."
"No matter what we decide," says board member Jesus Escarcega, "there's going to be some very upset people."
But people like June Jorquez already are upset.
"The neighborhood should be very happy that the school has taken the property," she says, sitting at her antique table in her antique kitchen of her restored Craftsman bungalow. "[Detractors are saying] 'It's okay to put a school or whatever they want, as long as they keep it south of Roosevelt'--is that the impression you get? Is that a neighborhood?
"In my opinion, the school's too good for the neighborhood.
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