City backs decision to block Federales from Roosevelt Row in Phoenix | Phoenix New Times

Phoenix backs decision to block Federales from Roosevelt Row

City dismisses allegations that a board was swayed by "undue political influence" when it rejected controversial tacos and tequila spot.
Federales' fight to build a restaurant and bar on Roosevelt Row is continuing in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Federales' fight to build a restaurant and bar on Roosevelt Row is continuing in Maricopa County Superior Court. Four Corners
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The city of Phoenix clapped back at accusations that “prejudice and political influence” led the Board of Adjustment to block the path to develop Federales, a controversial tacos and tequila spot proposed for Roosevelt Row in downtown.

"The Board ultimately found the neighbors' concerns more credible than Federales' business needs," the city said in a Jan. 5 court filing. “Despite Federales’ vague accusations of undue political influence and suggestion that the decision was based on ‘idle speculation,’ the Board’s decision was clearly based on the evidence before it, as well as their knowledge of the neighborhood’s character and needs."

The city's filing in Maricopa County Superior Court is the latest in the battle over whether the Chicago-based chain will get the approvals it needs to move forward with plans for an airy, indoor-outdoor restaurant and bar on the vacant lot at the northeast corner of Second and Roosevelt streets.
click to enlarge
A rendering of the proposed bar and restaurant on the northeast corner of Second and Roosevelt streets.
Four Corners

How did we get here?

The proposal to bring the cantina to the arts and entertainment district ignited a wave of pushback last year from neighbors and businesses that parties on both sides called “unprecedented.”

On June 1, after testimony from opponents of the development and the legal team representing Federales, the Board of Adjustment unanimously overturned the decision by a zoning administrator to grant use permits and variances needed to develop the lot. Before moving to do so, board member Ashely Hill noted her concern about Federales’ potential impact on surrounding residents and businesses.

“I am left with the impression that (Federales) is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole here,” she said. “I find it would cause an adverse impact… and I think the large showing of the community is evidence of that.”

A month later, Federales appealed the decision, moving the debate to Maricopa County Superior Court. In a November court filing, Federales accused the city and the seven-member citizen board of clandestinely deciding to sink the cantina.

“It appeared to (Federales) that the ‘fix was in’ based on the hearing and vote, and that political influence behind the scenes was at play,” Federales said in its November filing.
click to enlarge Downtown Phoenix aerial view
Federales wants to build a restaurant and bar on a vacant lot that's been used for gatherings for First Fridays, yoga and special events.
Danny Upshaw

City makes its case against Federales

The Jan. 5 filing marks the city’s first public response on the matter and it rebuts Federales’ accusations, asserting that no such shenanigans were at play.

“Rather than accept this reasonable exercise of the Board’s discretion to weigh evidence and testimony before it, Federales filed this appeal,” the document said.

The city also noted that the burden is on Federales to show the board’s decision was made “‘against the weight of evidence, unreasonable, erroneous or illegal as a matter of law.’”

The city asserted that the board came to a reasonable conclusion, based on the evidence submitted at the hearing and weighing several factors, including how the development may impact surrounding neighbors and businesses.

During the June hearing, opponents presented a variety of concerns with adding another bar to the bustling area. They included increased noise, violence and excessive alcohol use, as well as increased traffic and lack of parking.

“The Board ultimately sided with this substantial, credible evidence,” the city's filing said.

The city pointed to issues opponents raised around additional traffic, Federales' inability to adequately address community concerns, negative customer feedback from other Federales locations and that building another bar and restaurant would not "support the 'dynamic' vision" of the area. 

In its filing, the city also noted that the two residents who initially appealed the zoning decision to the Board of Adjustment, and are named in the lawsuit, aren’t required to participate in the legal proceedings. Although Kenny Barrett and Sean Johnson took that initial action, the city said, it doesn’t make them subject to future litigation.

Federales has until Jan. 26 to respond to the city’s court filing.
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