Lawsuit Threat Leads Phoenix to Withdraw City Effort To Preserve Wright House

Published: Thursday, December 8, 2016 - 6:57am
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2016 - 8:53am
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(Photo courtesy of the David and Gladys Wright House Foundation)
Exterior of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in the Phoenix Arcadia neighborhood.

The threat of a lawsuit led Phoenix leaders to back off a city-initiated plan to designate a Frank Lloyd Wright designed house a historic landmark.

For years, council members have delayed acting on the designation, but the owner’s pledge to sue citing economic harm to his property rights forced a vote Wednesday in the owner’s favor.

In 2012, when neighbors, preservationists and community leaders learned a developer planned to tear down the Wright house and build new houses on the 2.45 acre plot, city staff recommended historic status in order to stop demolition.

Since then, a new owner has bought adjacent properties and asked for 5.9 acres to be granted landmark status. The owner’s attorney, Michael Kibler told council members their focus on the 2.45 acres has hurt his client.

“It has blocked the partnering with any philanthropic organization who have expressed interest in getting involved and bringing the vision to fruition,” he said.

That vision remains unclear. The latest talk is about a foundation taking over the nearly six acres, preserving the iconic house and offering educational programs. But, one neighbor argued that four years of waiting for a historic status was long enough.

“You have to understand my skepticism, along with my neighbors,” she told council members.  “It is very disconcerting.”

In the end, council members withdrew the proposal and the owner will continue seeking historic status for the 5.9 acres which includes the house. T

The council’s move also allows the owner to focus on a new design that would create traffic access from Camelback Road rather than neighborhood streets. Any plans for tours and public programs will require special event permits and council approval.