By Joyce Coronel for Wrangler News
A vacant lot at the NWC of Rural and Warner roads stands at the center of a long- swirling controversy that has bitterly divided a South Tempe neighborhood.
When a chain link fence popped up days ago along much of the lot’s perimeter, and a large trailer and neatly stacked pile of pipes appeared, area residents began to wonder: Are those four dusty acres about to be developed?
They may have missed the small orange sign that sprouted alongside the trailer: The City of Tempe, it turns out, will be working on some water lines in the area.
Steve Tseffos, one of the owners of the parcel, said he and his partner, Tally Ho Farms resident Bill Fautsch, have leased a portion of the 3.7-acre parcel to a company doing the construction work for the city, but they say the property also is “under contract.”
So, what exactly does that mean?
“That’s as much as we actually want to say right now but you can pretty much deduce when somebody says it’s under contract that somebody’s trying to do something with it,” Tseffos said.
For years, some residents of Tally Ho Farms, the neighborhood that shares a property line with the vacant land, have opposed commercial development of the parcel.
A resident of the Alta Mira subdivision, east of Tally Ho Farms, said he’s hoping the corner will be developed. “It’s an eyesore,” the man said. “I don’t know what the owner has in mind — I don’t know what he’s waiting for, but I wish he’d find it.” Admittedly though, he said, the property in question is not adjacent to his backyard.
Shirley Albertson’s property is. She’s lived in the same home in Tally Ho Farms for 49 years.
When investors eventually bought the empty lot behind her home, Albertson said she and her late husband, joined by another neighbor, approached the new owners and showed them the deed restrictions they intended to enforce.
“And for 20 years, they have tried everything under the sun to get around those deed restrictions,” Albertson said. Then, in 2017, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law that makes it easier to amend covenants, conditions and restrictions.
According to Tseffos, that new law means that instead of needing 100 percent of a subdivision to agree to change the CCRs, now it’s only 51 percent. He called the Tally Ho Farms original deed restrictions “draconian” and said only a “small minority of people” oppose commercial development of the corner. He said he and Fautsch went around the neighborhood collecting signatures to amend the CCRs to remove the vacant land from the Tally Ho Farms subdivision.
Albertson stands by her viewpoint.
“Commercial development will ruin the neighborhood. Who wants a business right on their property line? I think it’s wrong of them to ruin the neighborhood just for personal gain. They want big bucks. They can make money on their investment — one to four houses can go in there.”
Tseffos disagrees. He says market studies show no one wants to live on that corner and that traffic counts support commercial development.
Tempe City Councilmember Jennifer Adams weighed in on the controversy. “I believe if we work closely with the surrounding neighbors we can have the corner turn into something that will benefit our entire community and city,” Adams said.
She’s not alone in her assessment. Scott Agnew, a longtime realtor in the area, offered a similar take: “Overall many residents benefit in the end. Tempe needs projects like this and so does the community.”
But before anyone breaks out the champagne, there’s this:
Dale Zeitlan, the attorney representing Albertson and other Tally Ho Farms residents opposed to commercial development of the empty land, said the property in question was not removed from the Tally Ho Farms subdivision by the 2017 law and therefore is still subject to the original deed restrictions that preclude commercial development.
And while Tseffos and Fautsch say they gathered enough signatures of Tally Ho Farms residents on a petition to meet the 51 percent required by the new law to amend CCRs, Zeitlan says in this case, that won’t work.
“The problem with that whole argument is that that statute does not apply retroactively,” Zeitlan said. The new law applies to new neighborhoods’ CCRs, but not those already established before the law took effect.
Read more at Wrangler News.