Phoenix Businesses And Neighbors Clash Over Noise, Traffic

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 5:05am
Updated: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 12:28pm
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(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
Adequate parking can be a challenge when new restaurants and bars open.
(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
Visitors to The Colony can only enter and exit off of Seventh Street.
(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
The Yard in Phoenix was previously home to a motorcycle dealership.

The idea of new neighborhood restaurants can seem appealing to many people, but the reality for some Phoenix residents is less than fulfilling.

With towering trees and green lawns surrounding single story homes, Tony Sissions’ neighborhood looks like many others in central Phoenix, until you walk through his backyard and open the garage door.

“They invaded our neighborhood,” he said.

No parking signs are posted on neighbors’ block walls.

A motorcycle dealership used to be located just across a narrow alley from Sissions’ garage. Now, the parking lot belongs to The Yard. It’s home to three restaurants and a spacious courtyard featuring dining space, lounge areas and games like ping pong, foosball and bean-bag toss.

Sissions said the developer’s initial sales pitch went something like this: “Just the family-friendly neighborhood eating place that the neighborhood has always wanted,” he said.

Not long after The Yard opened, Sissions said it became more of a nightclub environment with noisy patrons and cars cramming into residential areas just off Seventh Street.

Neighbors eventually got the city to approve a permit-parking system where only residents with stickers on their cars are allowed to park. If violators are spotted, neighbors are told to call the non-emergency police number.

Sissions said it worked for about three months, but now he thinks everyone’s tired of the calls and said he often hears: “Well, you understand, Mr. Sissions, this is a very busy evening, and there are a lot of emergencies all over the city and it may be quite a while before an officer can arrive,” he paused before adding, “We know what that means.”

It’s not just parking that’s been a problem. Sissions said they’ve seen discarded underwear and condoms behind their homes and his neighbor’s teenage girls can’t use their trampoline in the backyard “because of the catcalls they get from young men out here."

”I think we learned a lot from The Yard,” said Chris Mackay, economic development director for the city of Phoenix. “Never is it our intent to cause a challenge to a neighborhood."

Mackay described adaptive reuse projects as a careful balancing act between helping developers turn vacant or run-down buildings into new, successful businesses while also respecting neighborhoods.

When Phoenix approved plans for The Yard more than four years ago, the city’s parking requirements were based only on the dining areas and not the outdoor recreational space where large groups hang out.

“To go back and say well 'gosh, you are going to have to close because you don’t have enough spaces,' that’s something the city can’t do,” Mackay said. “Those are private property rights. There were knowns when they went into that particular area.”  

Developer David Sellers said the reality is that restaurants and bars need more parking than the city requires. That’s why he leases extra space from a church. Sellers’ complex, called The Colony, is immediately south of The Yard and limits access so customers can only go in and out from Seventh Street.

“Because I think what happens is when cars go into the neighborhood, they look to your parking lot, and if it’s full, they’ll just park in the neighborhood, whereas ours they’re never going into the neighborhood, whatsoever,” he said.

While Seventh Street between Missouri Avenue and Bethany Home Road is arguably the city’s hottest spot for new restaurants and bars, the corner of Central Avenue and Camelback Road has also seen changes. And, some neighbors say enough already.

“Our objection is not to Huss Brewing at Uptown Plaza,” Ken Mosesian said. “Our objection is to the location at Uptown plaza.”

During a City Council meeting last month, Mosesian explained why the Windsor Square Historic District opposes plans for a craft-beer taproom with a patio.

“The beer and wine bar will be located 34 feet from a single-family residential home and from several homes along that alley way,” he said.

Idling delivery trucks are not new to neighbors, but the amount of noise and traffic is. The Uptown Plaza adaptive-reuse project brought in several new restaurants with outdoor dining areas. Their success is what led Leah Huss and her husband to sign a lease there. She told council members she was shocked to hear the opposition.

“We felt that we had done everything to become a good neighbor, including self-imposing restrictions on ourselves,” she said.”We never imagined that three months after our initial announcement and tens of thousands of dollars already invested that we would be facing real possibility of losing everything.”

As Huss Brewing owners and neighbors try to work out a deal they can both live with, the city is working on new requirements. They call for future projects to include parking for recreational spaces, like The Yard.

“Not that that does anything for our neighborhood,” Sissions said.

But, he said it could help others — if they get involved early.

“One of the problems is that neighborhoods never become active until bad things have already happened to them,” he said.

Whenever he sees a public-hearing notice posted on private property, Sissions said he reaches out to neighbors and encourages them to make it their business to find out who wants to move in.

(Map courtesy of LGE Design Build)

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