Longform

That Goes On Behind Closed Doors?

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She has hit one nail on its head, Mayor Goddard says. "I think the real controversy here is that this is a pissing match between developers," he says, with Gosnell being one and the neighborhood sellout people being the other. "A lot of the so-called `Gosnell conspiracy' has been thrown up to draw fire away from what they're doing. There's no conspiracy. There's an interpretation problem, I agree. But that's it."

The Gateway neighborhoods have been the target of the city's largest neighborhood buyout effort for the last several years. Two years ago, when New Times profiled that fight, it found some neighbors steadfastly resisting wholesale buyouts and others vehemently supporting them. Now, it seems, most neighbors have decided they can no longer live peacefully in an area where Sky Harbor Airport is expanding a half mile south of them and the Papago Freeway is being built on their northern boundary. So they've given up the fight and decided their best option is to be bought out en masse by a developer who could pay a decent dollar and then tear down their homes to use the land for commerce. In making that decision, they've joined forces with former enemies.

Case in point: Those neighbors now want zoning approval for the Oasis Project, a mixed-use plan that would be built next to Gateway Center. Its zoning case will come before the council later this month. Ironically, the land for the Oasis project was assembled over the last seven years by John Rooze, who bought up individual homes within the neighborhood and, as neighbors loudly complained two years ago, let them deteriorate into a "blighted slum." In fact, the city helped sell voters on the neighborhood maintenance policy passed in 1987 by using guys like Rooze as an example: The new law would help prevent the deliberate deterioration of neighborhoods by land speculators. That law is one reason Phoenix recently was named an All-America City. Now those same neighborhoods are supporting Rooze.

THE GOSNELL CASE IS the kind of mistake that haunts for a long time. Regardless of its outcome, the way it was handled will be remembered by those intent on criticizing the mayor, or Nadolski, or the council as a whole, or the city's seven-year-old district system. It just raises too many questions a council up for re-election would rather not be asked.

Nadolski now suspects Gosnell was purposely creating a "paper trail" to politically embarrass her. She worries that her future relationship with Mayor Goddard will be strained. ("I know he'll be furious at me for saying these things about him, but I don't want him to do this to me again," she says.)

The last thing Goddard needs is to lose Nadolski as a regular ally (especially since he's shown little skill in lobbying his own council for his pet projects). Nor does he need any more tarnish on his image as the crusader who cleaned the developers out of City Hall.

And why didn't anyone else on the council warn that Gosnell was getting some very strange concessions? Does the district system mean councilmembers don't pay attention when it's not their own district?

One cynic asked, "If Gosnell can get `automatic' approval for space based on a market study, why should the council bother with zoning at all? Why not just order studies for all of Phoenix and automatically rezone the whole place?"

The question wouldn't sound so cynical if this weren't supposed to be the days of "opening the doors of City Hall" to everyone; if Goddard and this council didn't give so many speeches about neighborhood rights; or if this weren't an "All-America City" because of citizen participation in local government.

The crowd was skeptical, to say the least, when Nadolski insisted Gosnell had it all wrong.

"If you didn't agree with Gosnell, why didn't you write back and say, `Hey, Gosnell, you're full of bull'?"

"Gosnell has gone through hoops. It's unfair to say he has City Hall in his pocket."

"Three weeks ago I heard . . . Terry was telling the staff to hurry because Gosnell might get Macy's."

Nadolski now suspects Gosnell was purposely creating a "paper trail" to politically embarrass her.

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Jana Bommersbach