Developer takes on city hall and wins, thanks to Prop. 207
Arizona Republic columnist
Apr. 14, 2007 12:00 AM
Phoenix, AZ - Score one for that most beleaguered of men, the one whose land the city has plans for.
The Phoenix City Council went into full retreat this week, repealing the historic designation it had slapped on a swath of land in central Phoenix. Not only did city leaders back away from their earlier decision to block a guy from doing what he's legally entitled to do with his own land, they declared their fallback an emergency.
"I still think it was the right thing to have a historic overlay on it," a slightly grumpy Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon told me. "But it (the repeal) was on the advice of attorneys. I've got a fiduciary duty to the citizens not to risk $40 million."
Turns out it can be downright pricey to trample people's rights. Has been ever since November when 65 percent of voters ushered in Proposition 207, the Private Property Rights Protection Act.
Not a moment too soon, as it turns out, for Scott Haskins and the other landowners along the north side of McDowell Road, between 11th and 15th avenues.
A year ago, Haskins bought the Palmcroft Apartments, two blocks of ratty apartments. They were built in 1943 as war housing, and I imagine they were decent in their day. You know, along about the time of the Eisenhower administration.
In more recent decades, they have become what that area's police commander tactfully described to me as "the cancer complex of the neighborhood." So along comes Haskins, who buys the place and cleans it out, earning the undying gratitude of many in neighboring Palmcroft.
Haskins, an investor from Santa Barbara, Calif., did his homework before plunking down $5.4 million for the land, making sure the city's rules would allow him to tear down the apartments and put in luxury condos. They did.
What he didn't count on was G.G. George, a self-appointed activist who has the ear of the area's councilman, Doug Lingner. When George speaks, Lingner listens. Which is how Haskins' property came to be declared historic.
Normally, such matters are initiated by the city's Historic Preservation Commission but only after two-thirds of the affected property owners approve. Lingner got his pals on the City Council to bypass such niceties. In November, they declared the area historic over the objections of every landowner affected.
Given the historic status, Haskins was blocked from demolishing the apartments for a year and then would have been forced to jump through an array of city hoops, giving the city control over what he could build and how it could look.
So he filed a $40 million lawsuit, claiming that under Proposition 207, the city was lowering the value of his land. City pols disagreed but hotfooted it on Wednesday to undo their handiwork.
Gordon was almost wistful on Thursday when he talked about the Palmcroft Apartments. He suspects Haskins is out to make a fast buck, not a place of distinction. "Those apartments could have been beautiful restored," Gordon said.
Those apartments weren't beautiful in their best day and to be kind, that day ended before I was born. But if there is a gem there, hidden by generations of grime and neglect, why wait until Haskins comes onto the scene to look for it?
This isn't about a city saving history. It's about a city controlling property. Which wouldn't be so bad, except that it isn't their property. It belongs to Haskins. "They wanted to play Socialist Republic of Phoenix and got their hands slapped, hard," he told me.
His plan shows condos up to four stories, as the zoning allows, condos he promises will be an architectural point of pride. I hope so. He's already made his mark on this place once. He's the guy who took on city hall shenanigans and won.
It almost seems - dare I say it? - historic.