Demolitions of historic buildings will now require a longer waiting period

Phoenix City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday requiring a 30 day waiting period before the destruction of historic buildings. (Austin Miller/DD)

Demolition of historic buildings will now require a 30-day waiting period and public notice in an effort to prevent destruction of iconic and historic structures.

The ordinance passed the Phoenix City council with a 7-2 vote and is expected to affect 300 buildings out of the 1,500 that apply for permits each year. The new rule will be applied to commercial buildings 50 years or older and all properties identified as eligible for historic designation.

An additional $300 fee will be placed on applications for these buildings, but this will be voted on later because the fee requires a 60-day notification period before Council action. The fee is expected to cover the costs of implementing the new system. There will also be further request for one new planner position to help implement the process.

The ordinance had previously been approved by the Historic Preservation Commission, the Development Advisory Board and the Downtown, Aviation, Economy and Innovation Subcommittee. Staff originally recommended 10 days, which was later changes by the DAB.

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“I’m excited that we may have new stories we find. So often the real estate community is most excited about the historic portions of our city,” District 8 Councilwoman Kate Gallego said, noting the Warehouse district as an example.

District 7 Councilman Michael Nowakowski praised the ordinance as well, citing the importance of saving historic sites for future generations to enjoy.

“We’re losing those gems and I think this a way for us to preserve that history so I can tell stories to my kids, and my grandkids to come, and work to have a history be preserved,” Nowakowski said. “Phoenix is growing so fast and sometimes I think we need to take a couple step back and look at things.”

District 6 Councilman Sal DiCiccio and District 2 Councilman Jim Waring both opposed the ordinance and said it was not business friendly.

“Everyone would like to see our history preserved but that doesn’t mean every single property that’s out there would have to come forward,” DiCiccio said.

DiCiccio said the 10-day delay would be cumbersome, but the 30-day delay is a roadblock in the way of small businesses.

“While I appreciate that this is well intentioned you’re making it harder on people that are really the lifeblood of this community, creating things and building stuff,” Waring said. “Take a look at our state capitol, the place is a dump. I worked there for years, it deserves to go but honestly it’s old. I guess it qualifies. Sometimes old stuff is just old and sometimes it’s not worth preserving.”

Before the discussion, Bill Scheel, chair for the Historic Preservation Commission, said the ordinance came to this point because the destruction of a number of iconic historic properties downtown made the commission feel there was a need for a change in procedure. He said he felt every opportunity to sit down with developers creates better projects.

“I want to emphasize this policy change does not mandate preservation, it does not affect anyone’s property rights,” Scheel said. “What it does is create some time and some notification so that the community and the city are aware of what’s happening.”

Jim McPherson, president of the Arizona Preservation Foundation, said the foundation supported the ordinance.

“Many historic buildings in our capital have been destroyed simply by filling out a one page request for demolition and waiting three days,” McPherson said. “Our community heritage and our future deserve better.”

After the partial demolition of the Circles Records and Tapes building, community activist Stacey Champion spearheaded a petition, which has nearly 500 signatures, based on the Los Angeles ordinance requesting a 30-day hold on historic properties 45 years or older prior to demolition.

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“We have lost far too many iconic pieces of history in Phoenix. This added layer of transparency and opportunity for public input is at least a positive step in the right direction,” Champion said in the meeting.

All community members who spoke at the meeting said that they are in support of the ordinance.

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