Height v. Blight? Phoenix City Council Punts on High-Rise Condos

Phoenix Councilwoman Laura Pastor
Phoenix Councilwoman Laura Pastor
City of Phoenix screenshot

The Phoenix City Council on Wednesday punted on a controversial application to rezone a parking lot at the Phoenix Country Club to allow for a high-rise residential tower.

Instead of approving the developer's application to rezone for a high-rise, the council unanimously approved of temporarily rezoning the lot on the corner of North Seventh Street and East Thomas Road for a mid-rise building. Within six months, the council said, the developers would have to submit a planned unit development, crafted in cooperation with the neighbors who oppose the high-rise.

"I agree with the community that there should be no high-rise designation," Councilwoman Laura Pastor said during Wednesday's council meeting. Pastor, who represents the district containing the Phoenix Country Club, made the motion to approve a temporary mid-rise, capped at a height of 110 feet, followed by a proposal for a planned unit development.

The Country Club's warring neighbors were not relieved with the council's decision.

"We'll see," said Robert Warnicke, the resident leading the charge against the rezoning. "The underlying problem is that mid-rise zoning got approved where it shouldn't be."

A vocal cohort of these residents, who live in Coronado and other surrounding historic districts, vehemently and visibly oppose the high-rise designation. For months they have been spiking signs into their yards and on street corners: "HEIGHT EQUALS BLIGHT."

They claim that if a tower goes up, their homes and properties will be devalued and doomed.

"Everybody looks at it and knows it'll be torn down for something else," Warnicke said.

A few dozen residents arrived at Wednesday's council meeting wearing bright red T-shirts with "Stop the Looming Tower" printed on the front and a cartoon of a skyscraper menacing Thomas Road on the back.

They argue that their area is not part of the city's general plan, which they say calls for high-density housing along the city's central corridor and light rail. The light rail is also less than a mile away from the lot in question.

The general plan is a blueprint, not a legally binding document. Its wide-ranging, loose goals cover everything from transportation and development to communication and jobs.

Nevertheless, Warnicke calls the proposed tower "theft" — theft of the value of his property.

"They don't deserve a tower to do this to my neighborhood," he told council members during public comment Wednesday.

The initial proposed building would have been a 15-story, 164-foot tower of condominiums. How a planned unit development would look remains to be seen.

After the meeting, Larry Lazarus, a lawyer for the developer, AGS, called the council's decision a "compromise." He said that the Phoenix Country Club, which owns the land, intended to build a luxury condominium that would "improve the quality of the neighborhood."

The Phoenix Country Club would benefit financially from such a development. The target residents were country club members, although potential residents were not required to be, Lazarus said.

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