North Central News

Demo permit fight heads to zoning hearing

By Teri Carnicelli

UPDATE: The hearing has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday, June 26 in Phoenix City Hall. However, it’s possible another continuance may be granted due to the short time frame. Keep checking back here for the latest information!!

The owners of a home at 7019 N. Central Ave. will make their case to a Phoenix zoning officer as to why their home should be allowed to be torn down.

Referred to as the William F. McElroy house, the home sits on property that was part of the original Orangewood subdivision platted by William J. Murphy in 1895. The home itself, however, wasn’t constructed until late 1926.

The William F. McElroy house, built in 1926 and located at 7019 N. Central Ave., has a large grassy area and circular driveway lined with palm trees, creating a large buffer space between the home and the adjacent Murphy Bridle Path. The owner of the small house, which sits on more than an acre of land, is seeking to tear it down for redevelopment (submitted photo).

Last month, the Phoenix Historical Preservation Commission voted 6-0 to initiate historic preservation review for the home, which could result in the home being listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register, providing a new zoning overlay that would protect the home from major changes—including demolition.

It was a demolition permit, filed in April by current owners David and America “Mary” Young, that galvanized community members and the North Central Phoenix Homeowners Association (NCPHA) to protest against the tear-down of the home, located on more than an acre of property just north of Glendale Avenue.

At issue is whether the home itself, or the man who built it, has any historical significance. David Young stated at the commission meeting that, “No one historically important has lived in the house, and no one of historical value built it.”

According research done by the Historic Preservation Commission staff, original property owner William F. McElroy moved to Phoenix in the early 1920s. He worked as a produce dealer and became a prominent local businessman. But there was no record presented as to McElroy holding any public office or performing any significant act to the benefit of Phoenix or the state of Arizona.

An article in The Arizona Republic announcing the construction of the home did not list an architect for the design but noted that J.B. (James Blaine) Matz would be the contractor. Matz began his career specializing in residential construction and partnered with N.C. Pierce in the development of the Pierson Place subdivision at roughly 7th Avenue and Camelback in the mid-to-late 1920s. Later he went on to specialize as a commercial building roofer.

When first constructed, the home included two bedrooms, an upstairs sleeping porch, a living room, dining room, kitchen, and sunroom. The home now includes undated modifications and two additions. The staff report listed the interior as being in “fair to poor condition.”

However, the report affirmed that the home is “recommended eligible for listing in the Phoenix Historic Property Register,” concluding that the “rectangular-shaped, two-story, side-gabled home … is representative of American Colonial Revival style architecture.” It is also an example of original, residential rural estates in the North Central corridor—few of which remain today.

The report added that while the building has been subject to modifications, it is still considered “to retain integrity of location, materials, workmanship, setting, feeling, and association and is able to convey its historical significance.”

With the initiation of the historic preservation review, Historic Preservation Office Michelle Dodds denied the demolition permit request based on city ordinance that protects homes from being razed that are deemed a “significant property.”

The Youngs will now argue their case before a zoning officer, specific to the denial of the demolition permit. They will have to prove that either the property is not historically significant, or that economic hardship will result from the permit denial. The hearing was scheduled for June 6, however, the Youngs have indicated that they will ask for a continuance at that meeting, which will push it back until sometime in early July. If the continuance is granted, no public comment will be taken at the June 6 meeting.

The Youngs said they have been living in the home for the last couple of years, despite its condition. According to city ordinance, the argument for economic hardship for a home that is occupied by the owners has to prove that “the property has no beneficial use as a single-family dwelling or for an institutional use in its present condition or if rehabilitated.” In other words, they have to argue that the home is unfixable in its present condition. They cannot, however, argue personal economic hardship—that they don’t have the money to repair it.

Their other avenue is to argue it has no historic value, and the staff report did state that two historic surveys done of the area in the early 1990s failed to identify this home as being of historic significance. However, the report went on to say that the home was overlooked, rather than deliberately left off the surveys, and other homes in the area later deemed historic also were accidentally left off those surveys as well.

While the Youngs did not purchase the home but rather were gifted it from the former owner, David says it has proved to be a money pit over the last 23 years. He says they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in upgrades (adding air conditioning), maintenance, repairs, landscaping, and property taxes.

He said they tried to fix it up themselves but had to leave Arizona for several years and were unable to maintain the home from afar. Now, in their mid-70s and dealing with health issues, they are simply unable to continue the work.

“We have a time limit. We are trying to offload the property and make the maximum amount that we can so our children will have a future,” David said. “If you deny us the demolition permit, you deny us the right to sell at market value.”

Some argue that the current list price of $1.8 million is “developer” value—not actual market rate.

“Several people have wanted to purchase this property over the years, but the asking price has been double market value,” stated Anne Ender, president of the NCPHA.

A local family has made an offer over the $1 million mark to purchase the home, but David says it would “cost” him and his wife a half-million dollars of anticipated profit to take that offer. A developer has provided a letter of interest, but so far no other hard offers have come forward, pending the resolution of the demolition permit.

The Youngs will likely argue that they have already poured a great deal of money into the home, and that not being able to sell it at the highest amount possible will create financial hardship. However, they do acknowledge this is not their only home—they are listed as the owners of a condo in Scottsdale, a home in Santa Fe, N.M., and a home in Omaha, Neb.

In addition, members of the NCPHA point out that in all likelihood a developer won’t want the property once they realize there already is in existence a special planning district (SPD) that could realistically prevent that lot from being split, stopping multiple homes from being built on it—which could cause the Youngs to have to reconsider their asking price.

If the hearing officer upholds the denial of the demolition permit, the Youngs can appeal his or her decision to the Historic Preservation Commission—a path that Dodds admits is a little strange, but is proscribed by city ordinance.

Similarly, if the hearing officer overturns the permit denial, the NCPHA or other concerned party can also appeal the decision to the Historic Preservation Commission.

“We strongly oppose the demolition of this rare American Colonial Revival architecture,” said Mary Crozier, president emeritus of the NCPHA. “I believe it is the only one in North Central, and perhaps one of only two left in the city. Demolishing this home will set a dangerous precedent for all other existing historically significant homes on Central Avenue.”

Whatever decision the commission reaches on the demolition permit, it can then be appealed to the Phoenix City Council. Ender says she is confident the City Council would deny the demolition permit and allow the process of historic preservation review to take its course.

 

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