Monday, October 22, 2007

Downtown Phoenix Dirt Lot List

The flip side of the flurry of construction downtown is the continuation of one of downtown's decades-old pastimes: land banking. In this unfortunate scenario, investors (who often live out of state) purchase a lot in hopes of reselling it at an unrealistically high price and tear down whatever building sits on the land to avoid paying the accompanying property tax. This is possibly the single biggest problem facing downtown Phoenix today, as the empty lots are not only ugly, but the continued tear-down of old buildings has led to a dearth of older commercial buildings that small businesses can occupy.

Tracing the evolution of the countless empty lots in downtown and uptown Phoenix today would be next to impossible, so I'll limit my list to those empty lots that have appeared since I moved downtown in 2004. Please let me know if you can think of any more.

Downtown (and Uptown) Phoenix Dirt Lot/Parking Lot List
[updated August 6, 2010]

1. Dirt Lot covering entire city block at Portland Street and First Street; created 2009
2. Jewel Box parcel at Central Avenue and Fillmore; created 2008
3. Dirt Lot at Portland Street and Second Street; created 2007 [former home of the 1909 Morin House, threatened when the Orcutt Winslow partnership planned to tear down the building and moved to Fifth Avenue where it filled a former dirt lot]
4. Dirt Lot at McDowell Road and Fifteenth Avenue; created 2007 [controversial teardown of the Palmcroft Apartments in favor of a proposed four-story complex; probably the highest-profile Proposition 207 victim; thanks to Mark for the mention]
5. Dirt Lot at Central Avenue and Willetta Street; created 2006 [small commercial building that housed a graphic design business, razed for the never-built Artisan Haus project]
6. Dirt Lot at Central Avenue south of Central High School; created 2006 [former Holiday Inn razed for the never-built Cresleigh Village project]
7. Phoenix Biomedical Campus; created 2005 [I know the city moved or demolished several homes in the Fifth Street/Sixth Street area north of Fillmore so that land could be quickly "assembled" for expansion of the campus. The land is still vacant.]
8. Sahara Hotel/Ramada Inn; created 2010-? [The city is tearing down this mid-century modern hotel in hopes that the site will someday house ASU's law school. In the meantime...stop me if you've heard this before...the site will be a parking lot.]


Mark said...

How about the Palmcroft Apartments on the NEC of 15th Avenue and McDowell? They were razed this past summer. A new 4 story condo complex is supposed to be built in its place but I don't know if that's a sure thing or not.

I agree with you. The volume of dirt lots throughout DT Phoenix is depressing and embarrassing. Fortunately, the city seems to have stepped up to the plate in recent years to help relocate the historic housing stock that was in danger of demolition (ex: Morin House). Let's hope they keep it up.

Why do developer requested zoning changes (i.e. height waivers) have to be permanent? In some instances, the landowner's only motive is to make the land more valuable by up-zoning it. If the zoning changes were granted on the condition that a proposed project actually gets built, I think we'd see less flipping... and less bulldozing of properties.

Also, I think the owners of vacant lots should be held more accountable for keeping the lot looking nice. All I ask is that they maintain the sidewalks, trim the trees, and remove the trash. DT Chandler, for example, has some of the nicest, cleanest dirt lots I've ever seen. I'm serious. If the ones in PHX looked like that I wouldn't mind them as much.

What are your ideas?

azpreservationist said...

There's a non-profit organization that's trying to get off the ground (pun intended) a project to plant various shade trees on empty lots (that can then be easily transported when the land is actually developed). Cyd West with MPAC is the person who's been working on this:

downtown_resident said...

Mark, a zoning stip mandating that the project actually be constructed is an interesting idea. I think it would survive the rational nexus/rough proportionality legal tests, although a municipality would definitely want a Proposition 207 waiver to try to make something like that work.

Downtown Voices and others have suggested that the city not reduce property taxes on vacant lots (such taxes decrease when buildings are torn down), which is another thought.

But the beautification of the dirt lots is probably the most realistic proposal. The Cyd West concept is encouraging.

iluvdowntownphx said...

Don't get me started.... The City of Phoenix is the single largest owner of vacant lots and historic vacant houses in the Roosevelt District.

SWC 5th Avenue and Fillmore- vacant- Last RFP was 2005. Development Agreement never signed

Pappas School- coming under city control- vacant

North side of McKinley from 2nd to 3rd Avenue- vacant

SEC 3rd Avenue and Fillmore- City obtained thru land swap- vacant

Just north of McKinley on 2nd Avenue: This property was condemned by the city before 1995- they purchased it from the owner for $16.75/sq foot (New Times, June 15th, 1995). Their plan was to renovate the folowing houses and put up office with ground floor retail... The following are included:

1. Two Historic houses at 816 and 822 North 2nd Avenue- vacant, just up for 3rd RFP in 14 years!

2. Lot at 814 North 2nd Avenue- just up for RFP

3. Historic house at 826 North 2nd Avenue- Development Agreement never enforced- renovations still not complete, 7 years later.

Three historic structures moved from E/C to south side of Latham Street, between 3rd and 5th Avenues- Development Agreement yet to be enforced, as yet unoccupied.

Clearly, the City is doing all that it can to control as much land in South Roosevelt as possible, where the largest tracts of vacant land are. The City is not shy about saying that they will "wait until prices come up" to develop the parcels or sell them. Sounds like land banking to me.