Longform

This Old $811,000 House

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With the task force behind it, the Glendale Historical Society, a nonprofit organization, last June applied for a $347,463 historical preservation grant from the Heritage Fund to buy the 1.9 acres of land where the house sits. The city is required to match the grant, and to do so it put up the house and $140,000, both of which the Sandses agreed to donate.

The application and accompanying gushy articles and letters of support pushed all the right buttons. The State Parks Board was assured that the project had universal support in Glendale. It would bring local and out-of-state tourists (one writer even suggested it would draw Super Bowl visitors). It was a migratory stop for birds. It would somehow involve low-income youth and minorities in historic preservation.

Each Heritage Fund application is reviewed by Arizona Parks Department staffers and awarded points in a series of categories. The potential projects are then ranked by their scores and funded from the top down until the money runs out.

So, if a high-dollar project is near the top, projects with low scores are out of luck.

The state also gives priority to restoration projects that are in imminent danger--the mission is to preserve.

All of this was good for the Manistee Ranch application. Not only is the house nearly a century old and architecturally significant, it was about to be bulldozed for a shopping center.

The Manistee project ranked fourth out of 83 applications. And the State Parks Board awarded it $241,620, the largest-single Heritage Grant ever given for historic preservation.

But the deal with the Sands family was all or nothing--buy the total 5.4 acres of land from the house to Northern Avenue or don't buy it. The Sandses already had another buyer for the property.

So, while the historic preservation grant for the 1.9 acres under the house was making its way through the application process, the City of Glendale applied for a separate Heritage Fund grant for the purchase of the 3.5 acres of land in front of and surrounding the house for a park.

The Manistee park application also garnered big points, despite that Sands Park sits about 700 yards away and there are more than 20 parks of one sort or another within two miles.

Manistee Park is planned as a "serenity park," featuring only paths and benches. Under Parks Department guidelines, this makes it different from Sands Park, which includes basketball and tennis courts along with its grass.

And while the two grant applications were considered in separate programs, "visiting historic sites" is designated as one of the Top 10 needs in the Parks Board's official Statewide Outdoor Recreation Plan of Arizona.

All of this earned the Manistee park applicationa ranking of eighth out of 45 projects vying for grant money. And it was funded, much to the chagrin of several other communities whose projects were not.

Former Tucson city councilman Brent Davis, who has an interest in a project that was not funded, was livid over the Manistee grant.

"This is an inappropriate use of Heritage funds," he told the commission.
"The house is movable. There is clearly an alternative here. It can be moved and it can be moved at no expense to the taxpayer," he said.

"There are many, many projects on this list which have been in the planning stages for years in some of these communities that are being bumped ..."

Maryvale Village Planning Committee chairman Mike Morgan also questioned the Manistee grant.

"There's a disparity here," he said. "Maybe mine [application] is going to come up on the list and it's not going to be funded, but at least it deserves to be looked at in a better light under these circumstances."

Specifically, opponents of the project questioned the price tag.
Glendale put up $285,000 from its general fund, and the state matched that for a total of $570,000 for the park, bringing the grand total to $811,620 in public money.

Throw in the $140,000 donation from the Sandses and the price tag exceeds $950,000.

The Sands property was already in escrow with a commercial developer, pending zoning approval, when Glendale decided it wanted the property.

So Glendale and the state paid the Sandses the commercial price--about $162,000 an acre--for property that was never zoned commercial.

That's about $100,000 per acre more than the usual park purchase. But then again, the usual park purchase is not in the middle of a city.

Furthermore, the most valuable piece of the commercial site--three acres at the very corner of 51st Avenue and Northern--was not included in the sale. That still belongs to the Sands family, which must go back to the city for approval of a new plan that's likely to be a less intensive commercial use.

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Lisa Davis