By Teri Carnicelli
It’s been a rough road for officials at North Phoenix Baptist Church, 5757 N. Central Ave., whose congregation in May of last year approved plans for a senior living complex on the church’s eastern property that currently is mostly underutilized parking spaces.
It wasn’t long after the announcement that trouble began to brew, as nearby homeowners and leaders of a large neighborhood association questioned the need to change the underlying zoning from residential to a mixed-use that would include commercial.
Development partners IPA-Arizona submitted preliminary plans to the city of Phoenix in August to build a 146-unit senior care community, which would be an L-shaped project starting along Bethany Home Road and then turning south along the east property line. The main buildings would be three stories tall, at a maximum of 53 feet, while the less-intensive Memory Care unit, located at the south end of the project, would be two stories.
While few objected to the idea of senior apartments, the main concern lay with the additional uses planned—such as a dining room that serves alcohol, requiring a liquor license, as well as salon that could potentially also be used by visitors and guests of the facility. Any change to the underlying zoning could set a dangerous precedent, argued representatives of the North Central Phoenix Homeowners Association (NCPHA).
“We have over 100 acres of church land within the NCPHA borders. Allowing commercial development on residential land will start the domino effect and provide money-making opportunities for churches who are having financial difficulty (or those that are growing and may need to move their congregation to a larger site),” said the NCPHA in a letter sent out to its members.
Adjacent residents hoped to meet with church officials and representatives of IPA-Arizona to find out more details and air their concerns, but several community meetings scheduled by the development partners were later cancelled, and no meetings ever took place.
In the meantime, the opposition effort went into high gear, with yard signs popping up along Central Avenue and in front of homes around the area, and a robust letter-writing campaign launched. NCPHA also lobbied city officials to help them “preserve the conventional zoning” of the property.
Those efforts began to bear fruit, as first one city council member, and later the mayor, voiced their opposition to the zoning change—well before the request was to come before the official city body.
“In a recent conversation with Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, the mayor made it clear to me that he opposes the IPA proposal,” said Mary Crozier, president of the NCPHA, in a Dec. 10 e-mail letter to her members. “More importantly, the mayor assured me that he will contact IPA immediately to urge them to withdraw their application. The mayor’s public opposition is another strong signal to IPA that their plan to site a massive ‘apartment complex on steroids’ in the middle of what has been a residential neighborhood for more than 120 years is, quite simply, unacceptable.”
Councilman Daniel Valenzuela, while not representing the district that the property lies within, made it clear he also was opposed to the project.
“Development that is not careful—and not attuned to the needs of residents and neighborhoods—cannot be allowed to harm the communities that make Phoenix vital and strong,” Valenzuela said in a Dec. 6 statement.
In the end, the rezoning application was withdrawn. Nicholas J. Wood, an attorney for Snell & Wilmer, sent a letter to Planning Director Alan Stephenson dated Dec. 12 that stated, “Following our discussions with the surrounding neighborhood, and taking into account their concerns and suggestions, my client, IPA, has elected to withdraw [its application].”
In a press release from North Phoenix Baptist Church dated Dec. 15, Jimmy Wood, an elder with the church, pointed out that the church has a longstanding history of being a good neighbor, such as hosting the starting points for the Fiesta Bowl and APS Electric Light parades, providing a home for the Uptown Farmers Markets, and more.
“We remain committed in being a good community partner and will continue to demonstrate our commitment to serving our membership. We felt that our ministry to seniors would be greatly enhanced by IPA’s quality residential senior housing and care facility adjacent to our campus.”
William Fettis, a partner with IPA, stated, “We are confident that this project would have been a treasured asset of the neighborhood and are disappointed that North Phoenix Baptist Church and IPA’s mission to serve the many seniors and their families living in the local community will come to an end.”