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

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Indeed, maybe a good lawyer should have discovered why there were no units left, as Gosnell avers. But Hayenga was a Phoenix resident seeking information, in multiple meetings with the city, about property: Should it have really taken a lawyer to get to the bottom line?

Why, when Hayenga went to City Hall three times before buying the property, did the city fail to explain that there was a zoning cap that could affect her development rights?

And why, once city planners realized that there were no units left, didn't they simply explain where the units had gone? They could have told Hayenga that they'd allowed someone else to build a bunch of apartments and that subsequently, to keep the cap intact, no one else could build.

That would certainly have been preferable to making her hire lawyers and wade through years of litigation.

"I suspect the lawyers at Beus Gilbert didn't know enough about the case to ask the right questions," says Leonard, Hayenga's new attorney. "But the city certainly wasn't volunteering anything."

The city declined comment, citing the pending litigation.

To anyone's who been following the case, the question is whether the city is conspiring against Miriam Hayenga or it's merely incompetent.

Last year, something curious happened, something that suggests the latter — that city staffers really have no idea what's going on at the Pointe Tapatio.

Just to recap. First, the city told Hayenga there were 120 units available. Three years later, it turned out that there were only 12 — it'd given the others to another developer. Ultimately, Hayenga was forced to get a zoning change just to get enough units added to build condos.

Guess what the city is saying now?

You won't believe this: There are still units left.

Last year, a developer named Joe Meza wrote to the city, inquiring about how many units were available on a hilly piece of the Tapatio Cliffs development that he'd just purchased.

The city told Meza that there were 12 units.

Hayenga and her lawyer were stunned. If there were still units available, why had she been forced to go through a rezoning?

To get answers, they summoned the Phoenix planner who'd written the letter on behalf of the city, Elizabeth DeMichael. Under oath, DeMichael explained that, yes, the Meza parcel still had units.

Hayenga's lawyer, Finley, asked how that was possible.

Those units had been assigned to Meza's parcel, DeMichael said. Even if the overall cap had been exceeded, he shouldn't lose his units. That answer was precisely the opposite of what Miriam Hayenga had been told in 2000.

Then, in response to Finley's follow-up questions, DeMichael laid down the real shocker. Hotel rooms, the planner said, don't count toward the unit cap. As long as a room doesn't have a stove, it does not count as a "residential unit" in the same way as an apartment.

Under that interpretation, there should have been plenty of units left at the Pointe Tapatio back in 2000.

As Hayenga's attorney, Jeff Finley, wrote in court documents earlier this spring, "Not until depositions were taken in this matter was it discovered that the City does not count hotel rooms against the dwelling cap .  . .  Despite having begged the City to allow the 120 units on her property, the City denied the request without ever advising that units were available because hotel rooms do not count."

As Finley concluded, "Instead of full disclosure, the City slowly gave out bits and pieces of information."

Nine years after the city soured her zoning deal, Miriam Hayenga is still on the case. And bits and pieces of information are still coming out.

The rules seem to change outright, depending on who's asking. The city seems more interested in stonewalling than explaining the truth in a logical way.

And, still, Miriam Hayenga fights on.

In the past, Hayenga's life has turned on a dime. After majoring in Biblical counseling at ASU, she headed to the conservative Fuller Theological Seminary in California before realizing she didn't quite agree with its teachings. "I had to figure things out for myself," she says. Tennis proved not to be an option, so she switched gears to start a business and, ultimately, get into developing the Waterin' Hole site.

Today, Hayenga manages the small rental properties that she and her partner have purchased as investments over the years; she's also managing an oil-and-gas venture in Missouri.

Her next move is unclear. But her partner suspects that the lessons Hayenga's learned through this debacle may lead to the next phase of her life.

"I wouldn't be surprised," Slaughter says, "if she got more involved in civic activities after all this is over."

Indeed, if you can't fight City Hall — even when the facts are on your side — maybe it's time to change it.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske