By Jessica Boehm for The Arizona Republic
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge has lifted a temporary construction ban on the Chinese Cultural Center, allowing the center’s new owners to move forward with removal of the iconic roof later this month.
The ruling, issued this week, is a blow to the Chinese-American community that has tried to preserve the center’s cultural elements, but a win for the building’s new majority owner.
An appeal is expected soon.
True North Companies purchased 95 percent of the 165KSF center in June through its subsidiary, 668 North. It plans to transform it into a sleek business center and corporate headquarters.
But the one other owner in the center — CJ Design & Construction Corporation, which owns and operates Szechwan Palace on the ground floor — believes removal of the Chinese roof and common elements violates its property rights.
The company asked Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner to prevent 668 North from altering the center’s outer elements until the court could hear a full trial on the legality.
Warner granted a temporary construction ban in September, but after a two-day hearing in November, the judge decided he would not continue the ban.
“The (temporary restraining order) was the last remaining obstacle to the revitalization of this property. We can now move forward with a plan that will bring new economic activity to a great Phoenix neighborhood and provide our employees a new corporate home in the heart of a great city,” 668 North President Dave Tedesco said.
Property Rights Dispute
CJ Design & Construction’s case hinged on one provision of the Chinese Cultural Center’s Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions, or CC&Rs — the documents that govern all owners within the center.
The provision states that common elements like the roof can only be altered if owners of 75 percent of the center’s units agree to the changes and pay for them, and if the alteration “does not interfere with the rights of any nonconsenting owners in the use of their units.”
668 North owns 95 percent of the center’s units and has agreed to pay for all changes. But, CJ Design & Construction’s lawyer argued that removing the roof and other heritage elements in the center would interfere with the company’s rights to operate a Chinese restaurant.
Elizabeth Mann, the original developer of the Chinese Cultural Center who helped write the CC&Rs, told the court she included that provision as a “poison pill” that would ensure the center’s Chinese elements would always remain.
668 North’s attorneys told the court that the other owner was taking too broad of a view of his rights. Attorney Gregory Gnepper said patrons still have “unfettered access” to the restaurant.
Gnepper also said that if the original developers really wanted to ensure the center always remained Chinese-themed, they could have specifically stated that in the CC&Rs. They did not.
The judge agreed.
The construction ban will lift at 5 p.m. Dec. 11.
Read more at The Arizona Republic.
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