A court verdict on Monday reaffirmed the city’s decision to build a temporary parking lot adjacent to Taylor Place, rejecting an appeal filed by a downtown Phoenix resident and community activist.
Judge John Rea’s verdict said the decision at the November Board of Adjustment Hearing, at which a five-year permit for the parking lot was issued, was not “arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion.”
The verdict came over two months after the plaintiff, Sean Sweat, a capital supply chain engineer for Intel, had his appeal heard before Rea in July. Some downtown Phoenix community members had attempted to stop the construction of the parking lot, which opened in June at the site of the former Ramada Inn, by proposing a dog park.
“Neither side offered the Board any studies, statistics, or empirical evidence,” the verdict stated.
Sweat’s appeal said the asphalt parking lot would increase ozone levels at ground level and increase vehicular traffic, as well as exacerbate the urban heat-island effect, a phenomenon that already causes temperatures after sunset to be 10 degrees warmer than normal.
Assistant City Attorney Michael Hamblin, the defendant on behalf of the city, agreed during the July appeal hearing that urban heat-island effect exists but disagreed the new parking lot raises ozone above accepted levels, acknowledging instead that when asphalt is used to “black-pave a city,” temperatures do rise.
According to court documents, a use permit will only be granted if “use will not cause adverse impact on … properties in the area,” and won’t increase vehicular traffic, emit odor, dust, gas, noise, vibration, smoke, heat or glare “exceeding ambient conditions.”
Sweat also contended the 90,000 square-foot parking lot would make downtown less pedestrian-friendly, saying its biggest detriment to the area was its “abhorrent” placement one-fourth of a mile from a light-rail station.
Hamblin refuted Sweat’s claims that the parking lot would also decrease property values in the downtown area and said most neighboring businesses support it, including Arizona State University, the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, the Arizona Republic, Freeport McMoRan and the Channel 12 News studio.
The temporary parking lot now serves as an “overflow lot” for the Sheraton Downtown Phoenix Hotel, a Sheraton employee said, though the site will eventually be home to ASU’s law school, according to court documents.
If ASU isn’t ready to begin construction of the new College of Law building in five years, as planned, a new temporary permit will need to be issued, Hamblin said in July during the appeal hearing.
Sweat mentioned in his closing arguments at the July hearing that there was a conflict of interest during the November Board of Adjustment hearing.
Now that he’s has seen the verdict result in the city’s favor, Sweat described the permit reapplication process as being dubious.
“When that site comes up for renewal, the city will just apply for another five-year extension, and Phoenix will just give it to them because that’s what they do … It will just be the city hall rubber-stamping itself basically, it (the city) is applying (for a permit) to itself, which is a very backwards process.”
Sweat places the responsibility of determining the potential negative effects on the city.
“I’m just so frustrated by the fact that the judge admits there’s no evidence. They have the burden of proof. I don’t. The city does,” Sweat said.
The city of Phoenix was unavailable to comment on the verdict.
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Correction: September 23, 2011
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Sean Sweat as a “capital supply engineer” and stated the parking lot was three quarters of a mile from a light-rail station. It is less than a quarter of a mile away from central station.