The owner of the vacant Fiesta Village shopping center is threatening to sue Mesa if the city moves to tear down large signs that officials have deemed a safety hazard.
The Phoenix-based W.M. Grace Development Co. told the city it doesn't have the right to go on private property and remove signs, in a letter to Mesa that the city released Tuesday. The city has threatened to bill Grace for removing the signs if the company doesn't do so by Nov. 1.
The company's refusal comes in a letter that could escalate long-simmering tensions over the appearance of a shopping center in a high-profile location. Earlier this month, the city threatened to fine Grace for code violations but also offered assistance in cleaning up the property and planning its redevelopment. Grace's letter says the company doesn't believe it's violating city rules.
"We would much rather amicably resolve this matter but we are prepared to litigate if necessary," Grace's letter states. "Please let us know if you truly intend on removing our private property and that this was not just a threat as we will want to have our attorney file a motion in the courts to stop that action."
Mesa has pressured Grace to remove a chain link and barb wire fence that rings the property and to repair damaged buildings at the northwest corner of Alma School Road and Southern Avenue.
The company blasted Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh, who represents that part of Mesa and has been an outspoken critic of how Grace has managed the property.
The company's letter to Mesa states that for two years "Kavanaugh does not want to help facilitate the things that will get both sides what they desire rather he wants to be a media glory hound in an effort to further his political position."
In the letter, written by Grace vice president Mike Pearlstein, the company states it doesn't ignore its commitments and that Mesa has unfairly called its character into question.
Kavanaugh said he's being a good advocate for his district and called the letter "disappointingly petulant." Mesa has the right to remove the signs, Kavanaugh said.
"Those are illegal, they're non-conforming, they're a safety hazard," he said. "They need to come down."
Grace wrote it would take the signs down if the city will grant it rights for the same amount of sign space in the future, as more modern zoning requirements wouldn't allow as much signage.
"Perhaps the Councilman should explain in his next newspaper article that it is the City's bureaucratic rules that are keeping those signs up," the letter states.
Pearlstein wrote he's had productive meetings with city staff and hopes to redevelop the property while resolving the city's issues.
Grace had planned to build a Lowe's home improvement center on the property and was working with the city on tax incentives to help redevelop the land. That plan fell apart after the city approved Mesa Riverview - along with tax incentives. Pearlstein wrote that the controversial Riverview tax incentives and other political issues hurt its redevelopment efforts.
Kavanaugh said today's city leaders are more open to working with Grace than the company seems to believe they are.
"They can't seem to let go of the relationship they had with the prior council and city staff," he said. "That's part of the discussion we've had for two years. Those people aren't here anymore."
City Manager Chris Brady said Mesa will push for Grace to comply with its request quickly, and hopefully voluntarily. He described the city's requests as reasonable and not costly.
"There's no doubt the property is not in compliance with how we expect a property to be maintained," Brady said.