Today’s post is by contributing writer Will Novak:

On Tuesday night (Oct 2nd) the case to recommend a landmark status historic overlay on the beautiful David and Gladys Wright home in Arcadia went before the Camelback East Village Planning Committee. If you weren’t there, be sorry you missed it; for a moment I thought it would turn into WrestleMania XXIX.

Before going into detail about what happened at the meeting, a bit of an overview of City processes is needed. As you probably know, the City is divided up into 15 “Villages” each with its own Village Planning Committee. The members of the Committees are volunteer private citizens who are appointed by the City Council. The Village Planning Committees are merely recommendation boards. Their purpose is to act as a representative voice for the community that they serve and to recommend various actions to the City.

The issue before the Camelback East Village Planning Committee last night was merely if they should recommend the Landmark Overlay to the City or not. There is a list of 5 criteria for a building to meet Landmark status, which the David Wright house not only meets but also exceeds.

After losing a unanimous vote in front of the Historic Preservation Commission, the developers (8081 Meridian) and their lawyer decided to take a different tactic at last night’s Village Planning Committee. Knowing they couldn’t reasonably argue the building’s historic architectural status, nor could they argue that it’s structurally unsound, they threatened a lawsuit:

“…you can’t allow it. We won’t allow it. The courts won’t allow it. You’re buying a lawsuit, basically, by approving it, by pushing it up the chain. You’re buying a lawsuit for the City of Phoenix. And we’re gonna win. And the house is gonna come down anyway. I urge you to deny the application…

~ Christopher W Kramer, 8081 Meridians’ legal counsel

This tactic was admittedly brilliant. It completely threw the meeting off course and the Planning Committee began to focus only on a potential future lawsuit and not whether or not the building was a historic landmark (which again, was their charge).  The Planning Committee chair, Mr. Jay Swart, who was seen chatting jovially with 8081 Meridian before the meeting, should have cut off Mr. Kramer as soon as he went down the lawsuit path. Whether or not Phoenix’s actions regarding the Landmark overlay will or won’t hold up in court isn’t the business of the Planning Committee, nor was it the matter at hand. However, Chairman Swart not only allowed Mr. Kramer to ramble on about lawsuits but when knowledgeable members of the audience piped up to let him know that proper procedure wasn’t being followed, he quickly shut them down. Chairman Swart seemed to take great pleasure in consternating audience members for speaking up and “wasting time” by giving a 2 to 5 minute lecture about how wasting time was bad. Of course this shouldn’t be surprising given Mr. Swart’s long-standing reputation as a bully.

Throughout the night there were issues with being able to hear the speakers. There were also problems with how long some people were being permitted to speak, while others were being shut down and told, “you only have a minute” (3 minutes is the norm). It was clear that Chairman Jay Swart and Vice Chair Michael Maledon were in over their heads running this particular meeting. Luckily every time the Committee got off track or lost control of the meeting, one of their members, Mr. Craig Tribken, seemed to be able to remind them of the point of the meeting. In my estimation Camelback East would be far better off with Mr. Tribken as their Committee Chair. It should be noted that both Chairman Swart and Vice Chair Maledon are longtime financial backers of anti preservation/anti urbanism Councilman Sal DiCiccio and were placed on the committee a few years back as de facto DiCiccio puppets (more info here).

Finally when the meeting was opened up to public comment, the always-awesome Grady Gammage Jr. was able to speak to the nonsensical legal issues Mr. Kramer brought up and largely put them to bed. Mr. Gammage explained that while it’s a City policy to seek an owner’s approval for landmark status, it isn’t required, just preferred. The developers also alluded to the possibility that they’d file a Prop 207 hardship case, that is to say that because of the overlay their property became devalued and more difficult to sell, the City would have to compensate them for lost value. Mr. Gammage also put the Prop 207 threat to bed when he explained there was a cash offer on the table for the building, offering the developers a near quarter of a million dollar profit for doing nothing more than sitting on the property for four months and acting like jerks.

Throughout the rest of the meeting more and more citizens spoke to the historical integrity of the building. The night was a “who’s who” of local architects as Will Bruder, Eddie Jones and Frank Henry were all in attendance supporting the landmark status. Though the committee repeatedly tried to get off track to discuss a possible future lawsuit the citizens speaking and people in the audience did an admirable job trying to steer the meeting back on topic.

Finally at the end of the over three hour meeting, it came time for the Village Planning Committee to vote on whether or not they should recommend the City goes forth with Landmark status. Initially the Committee made a motion to delay any action and kick the can down the road; luckily that motion failed to pass (the vote was 7 to 7). A secondary motion to approve landmark status was made and it passed 9 votes to 5. It seemed clear that the members voting against the Landmark status were effectively scared off by Mr. Kramer’s legal threats.

If you’d like to get involved in helping save this beautiful piece of Phoenix History, there are a few things you can do. First check out Save the Wright House.  Secondly, go online and sign the petition to save the home.  You may also want to read the New York Times article on the house. However the most important thing you can do is attend the next meeting. Here’s the scoop:

Planning Commission Hearing:

Tuesday October 9th at 6pm
City Council Chambers
200 W Jefferson St
Phoenix, AZ 85003

Photo Credit: There is a 24/7 police watch on the David Wright House in fear that the owners might demolish it illegally in the dark of the night. Photo by photographer John Covington.

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12 Responses

  1. Donna says:

    Well stated Will. The only thing you left out was how the chair made no effort to have the building opened longer (past 9pm) nor acknowledged when other city staff were able to do so.

  2. Great research on the background of key committee members. That explains a lot.

  3. Will Novak says:

    Donna, you’re right, I should’ve mentioned that! Kudos to Kevin Weight and Michelle Dodds w/ the City of Phoenix for pulling some last minute strings so the meeting could reach its conclusion.

  4. Patrick Bradley says:

    Donna is absolutely right. Kevin Weight and Michelle Dodds were incredible that night. Also, Will, can you add the date and time to the “scoop” about the next Planning Commission Hearing?? Thanks! Great article.

  5. Sandra Dean says:

    Excellent article, background and research on top is stellar.

  6. Will Novak says:

    Patrick, sorry I think the date/time didn’t get copy and pasted properly when this got uploaded. Working on that now…

    But until then, the date/time info is :

    Oct 9th. 6pm. City Hall.

  7. Will, isn’t the Planning Commission meeting on the 9th going to be in the City Council Chambers rather than City Hall?

  8. Will Novak says:

    David, the address I saw listed is 200 W Washington, which would be City Hall, not the City Council Chambers. 200 is an even number, so it means North side of the Road, so that can’t be the Council Chambers which are South of Washington.

    I think the Council Chambers have a Jefferson address anyhow.

  9. The City’s Web site says Council Chambers: http://phoenix.gov/phxd/bdcomm/BoardCommissionDetail?nbr=B9900412

    Is another source showing something else?

  10. Will Novak says:

    David, the sign in front of the house just said “200 W Washington”, but I’d trust the City website over the sign, so thank you for that catch.

    I’m unable to edit this article directly. Taz has to do it when she gets time, I don’t have access to it (I just email her stories in MS Word format).

  11. Misha Waggon says:

    In 2010 Pasadena, CA seized an historic building using eminent domain. It’s something to consider. From an article:
    Pasadena will use eminent domain to seize a historic YWCA building designed by famed architect Julia Morgan, it was reported today.
    The vintage-1921 building at 78 N. Marengo Ave., near City Hall, has been boarded up for more than decade, and the city tried unsuccessfully to buy it for about $6 million, the Pasadena Star-News reported.
    The owner, Angela Chen-Sabella, the daughter of a Hong Kong billionaire, bought the property in 1996 for $1.8 million, but wanted about twice what the Pasadena City Council was offering, the newspaper reported.
    The City Council voted unanimously to force the sale.

    The building, originally designed as a YWCA social center and boarding house, was designed by Morgan, who is probably best known for her work on Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Among the roughly 700 buildings she designed in California is the old Herald-Examiner building at Broadway and 11th Street in downtown Los Angeles.

  12. Will Novak says:

    Ok everything is all updated now. It is indeed in the Council Chambers.

    Sorry for the confusion everyone 🙂

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