Under the Sun

The ‘Stop the Tower!’ Guy Is Determined to Save Phoenix Homes

Robert Warnicke made these signs to save Phoenix residences.
Robrt L. Pela
Robert Warnicke made these signs to save Phoenix residences.

Last year, the Phoenix Country Club attempted to change the zoning of its parking lot at Seventh Street and Thomas Road. Robert Warnicke wasn’t having it.

“They wanted to bring high-rise, high-density zoning so a developer could build a residential high-rise there,” said Warnicke, a local bankruptcy attorney. “We put a stop to that.”

The “we” is Save Phoenix Homes, created by Warnicke with another local lawyer, Tom Chauncey, and other Phoenix-based activists. The group posted “Stop the Tower!” signs throughout the area and turned up at City Council meetings to oppose the new zoning and potential high-rise development. They prevailed.

“We got the zoning changed to midrise zoning,” Warnicke explained during a phone call last week. “The country club says it can’t build the tower it wants to — it won’t be profitable. Now, they’re asking for a PUD or Planned Urban Development zoning, and stopping that is our new battle.”

The Save Phoenix Homes folks don’t want a PUD because its restrictions can be set by the developer. That could mean a high-rise that would dwarf the neighborhood where Warnicke lives.

“The new plans are for 110 feet,” he said. “It’s too high. The city is specific about not building that high outside what they call the village core, which for midtown is considered McDowell to Indian School, Third Street to Third Avenue.”

Warnicke and Chauncey founded Save Phoenix Homes in response to a real estate development they opposed in 2008. “So then fast-forward to over a year ago now, when the country club started to make noise about actually going forward with selling off their parking lot. We knew they were going to, because Councilwoman Laura Pastor warned us that the country club was going to get a tower on that corner someday.”

Pastor, Warnicke thought, was in favor of a high-rise there. He believed it was a crummy idea — but not for any obvious reasons.

“People think it’s bad to have a high-rise in a residential neighborhood because then you’ve got neighbors looking down into your backyard,” he scoffed. “But that’s not it. That’s a psychological problem. The real problem is that everyone down on the ground looks at the high-rise and says, ‘Gosh, this whole area is about to be redeveloped. We better get out of here!’ And then the prices of the homes in that neighborhood either stagnate, or they go down.”

He cares about all this, he said, because he lives nearby — and because he was born and raised in Phoenix.

“I grew up in what they now call the Willo neighborhood,” said Warnicke, who’s president of the La Hacienda Historic District. “I’m a nine-iron away from the development, about 140 yards or so. Besides all the other stuff, a tower like this is gonna dump a lot more traffic onto my neighborhood streets. Not something I want.”

Warnicke wants, he said, the lesser of two evils. “My neighborhood survived a two-story complex going in. The neighborhood where Crescent Midtown took over half the area is now surrounded by two- and three-story condos. But on East Indian School there are a bunch of crappy apartments where the neighborhoods behind them are still surviving. I would settle for that.

“We’ve been in a pickle since Day One,” Warnicke continued. “I respect Councilwoman Pastor, but I’m not sure she’s opposed to a tower going up where there shouldn’t be one.”

A high-rise, Warnicke pointed out, meant more revenue for the country club, a business model that may be dying on the vine with millennials who think of a country club as something their grandparents belonged to.

“These clubs are scrambling for cash around the country,” he said, “and trying to save themselves by building condo towers. It won’t work here, because Arizona law prevents the club from requiring condo owners to buy a membership. Anyway, why would you buy a membership to a country club when you live in a building with its own amenities?”

Warnicke’s group has plenty of community support, he said. But his last meeting with Pastor didn’t go so well. “I got the impression that she thought a 110-foot tower was okay,” he reported. “I don’t know if I moved her or not when I said that no, it is not.”

While he pondered this, there were other details to attend to.

“I noticed someone took down our ‘Stop the Tower!” sign across from the country club,” he said with a laugh. He wasn’t concerned.

“Whatever,” he continued. “I’ve got seven or eight of them in my garage.”