Phoenix Country Club Becomes A Battleground Over Development
STEVE GOLDSTEIN: A corner of the Phoenix Country Club has become an unexpected battleground for a development project that proponents say is a mid-rise but that opponents call a tower. And they say the corner of Seventh Street and Thomas isn't the right place for it. The Phoenix City Council is scheduled to vote tomorrow on whether the proposal can move forward. And the outcome is uncertain. Councilwoman Laura Pastor, who represents the area, is anticipated to be the key member. In a moment, we'll hear from an opponent of the project. I start with supporter Beau Lane, a longtime resident of the area and former president of the Phoenix Country Club. Beau, why would this project be a positive for the neighborhood and the city of Phoenix?
BEAU LANE: First of all if you know that corner, Seventh Street and Thomas, it's not a particularly attractive corner. On two corners you have a boarded up check -cashing store and the other corner, a boarded up gas station. And then the third corner, an aging Circle K. And tthen you have the Phoenix Country Club on the fourth corner, that has been in Phoenix since 1899. One of the most historic institutions in the state and the largest green belt in central Phoenix, by the way — 110 acres. So the concept was to try to beautify that corner and to get, to spur on development like what's happened all along Seventh Street. You go from Dunlap to Roosevelt, or even further, and almost every corner on Seventh Street is under redevelopment or has been redeveloped except for this — Seventh Street and Thomas. So the concept is to take two acres of land, go up about 14 stories, 125 residents. And what's wonderful about that is you take two acres of land and you generate over $1 million a year in property tax — with the majority of that going to the Osborne School District and the Phoenix Union High School District, two districts in the central city that desperately need additional funding.
GOLDSTEIN: So what do you say to the folks who say, 'OK, fine, if it were just a little bit shorter.'
LANE: The economic realities for the developer to be able to make it economically viable. I happened to have — personally I'm the second closest house to the developments. I've lived there for 25 years. And if there's anybody that would be affected by it would be me and maybe my other neighbor who's the first closest house. We're both and strong support of it. You know, if you look at the layout and the design, it's set back 100 feet from the street. The developers, John Graham, is going to be giving up about 10 percent of the land around it to make a park-like beautiful landscaping all around Seventh Street and Thomas on that corner. So it's really going to be like a little urban park in the middle of Seventh Street and Thomas, and really beautify the corner. We have drone studies that show it what it looks like and what you're looking like when you look down, basically, is a canopy of trees in that part of town. I mean, there's no way that there be any disturbance of anybody's privacy.
GOLDSTEIN: So the pluses include reviving this area which has, you mentioned, the three corners, not doing very well. And, also, the idea of getting property taxes for the schools. Any other key point?
LANE: One other thing that I would point out, that I think is needs to be remembered — I mean, I've grown up and lived my whole life in the historic districts and had businesses in the historic district for my entire adult life. And historic homes are wonderful. I live in a 1930s home, but not everybody that wants to live in this part of the city wants to live in a historic home. If you look at what's happening in this part of town and, really, all over the Valley, but specifically in downtown, midtown Phoenix, you know, the explosion of startup tech firms. There's a new medical school being built basically a five-minute walk away from this building, which is at Park Central Mall, the Creighton Medical School. You know, the legal community, the medical community, the tech community, the entrepreneurial community and these are all individuals that want to live and work in this area. And this is, frankly, an option for them. They're basically custom homes in the sky. You know, it's an upscale product of course. But we need that kind of a product in central Phoenix to attract those type of workers.
GOLDSTEIN: There's been the debate lately of whether Phoenix has enough affordable housing. Did that come up at all? The idea of making this something that was less upscale.
LANE: I've heard that said, but we're dealing with a luxury product here on private property. It happens to be on land owned by the Phoenix Country Club, and it's been owned by the Phoenix Country Club for you know 120-some years. It's meant to be an upscale product. There's lots of other options in the neighborhood. You know, apartments and rentals, and that sort of thing. And this is, you know, a for-sale product meant to generate property tax for the school districts in the city.
GOLDSTEIN: Beau Lane. Thanks for coming in.
LANE: You bet. Thanks, Steve.
GOLDSTEIN: Now we turn to Neil Haddad, who opposes the project. He is president of the neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix. So Neal what do you see as the problems with this proposal.
NEAL HADDAD: So the issue that is most important and what people need to consider is that there's a reason why we have a general plan. A general plan is a state-mandated plan that voters have to review and approve. This general plan passed in 2015 was approved by 76 percent of the voters. The reason why that's important is because when we talk about development, we are talking about coming up with something that is good for all of us to live and grow with. We are a city that is really focused on development and growth. If we're going to do that, there's gotta be a way, a method, a plan that we can move forward together with. This project violates that.
GOLDSTEIN: Let's talk more about whether this project could lead to bigger issues. Are you concerned about this project, and then you're more concerned about what it may lead to?
HADDAD: So the issue with this is that, yes, it's about this project, but it also means about going forward. And what would happen in the future. And would this set a precedent. Why would it be OK to go against the general plan? Why would it be OK to go against the plan that requires this kind of height, this kind of intensity, to be near Central Avenue, the downtown spine of our city? If they can break away from that — and do something different and go somewhere else just because they have an open piece of land — well, that can affect every neighborhood in every part of this city. And that's our greatest concern. Let's follow the urban planning model. There are thousands of people that worked on the general plan. Thousands of hours, citizen hours, that went into that. There's no reason to disregard it. And we should be looking at the plans that we have set for sensible growth in our city.
GOLDSTEIN: If this project were along the light rail line, if it were more in an area or people have become familiar with these sorts of towers or whatnot, would there be less opposition to it? Let's put it that way. I can't it would be none. Would there be less?
HADDAD: I think, Steve, the people that we're working with, I don't think you would see any of those people come out against this. The idea behind light rail and why we spent all this money on light rail is to concentrate development and the intense use is in areas where there is commercial and retail use. This project has none of that. It's more than a half mile away from light rail. It's outside of the transit-oriented district, which encourages that kind of intensity. And people are just not — the people that are proposed to live in this facility are not going to walk over and use light rail. It just doesn't make sense.
GOLDSTEIN: The fact that Phoenix Country Club is a private entity, it's on the private property, where does the overlap begin? Or if there is an overlap, between the property rights versus the general plan and the fact that, as you said, there should be a growing together as a coalescence of sorts. Is there room for both, or not, in this case?
HADDAD: Well, I think property rights is a really important fact. And what about the thousands, literally, thousands of property owners that have their own property rights invested in a home — something that may be the most important largest investment that they make in their lives? Everyone does have a certain amount of rights when it comes to property and the exercise of those of those rights. However, we are a community. We don't — we are not unto ourselves. You know, each man is not an island. We are a connected community. We are trying to become more of a connected community. They can build at this facility. Nobody is saying that they can't build. What we are saying is they need to build within the guidelines that are already set. They can build in something that's called an R5 guideline. It would allow them the opportunity to build an even more dense unit. It just wouldn't be tall. And what they're asking for, it could be up to 65 feet, is what staff recommends. So they can, they have other options. They just don't want to do it.
GOLDSTEIN: Neal Haddad. Thanks for coming in.
HADDAD: Thank you, Steve.