The owner of a halfway house in downtown Mesa was cleared of all criminal charges last week when the city dismissed two fire code violations that had threatened to force the recovery program out of its building.
Both sides reached an agreement that will require Transitional Living Communities, a live-in recovery program for alcoholics and drug addicts, to apply for a new occupancy permit and install fire sprinklers in exchange for the dropped charges, said the halfway house’s owner, John Schwary, and Mesa city prosecutor John Pombier.
“We’re planning on complying with what the city wants,” Schwary said. “It’s a good feeling to get rid of criminal complaints.”
In November, Mesa filed 11 building and fire code violations against Schwary, which he said was the city’s way of forcing him out of downtown. In January, the city dismissed charges stemming from nine building safety code violations at the 100-year-old “Mac House” building at 20 S. Macdonald. In Mesa, code violations are treated as criminal offenses.
It wasn’t Schwary’s first legal battle with Mesa. In 2003, he claimed in federal court that the city had violated the Fair Housing Act, a case that resulted in a settlement that allowed the halfway house to stay downtown and awarded Schwary $40,000 in legal fees.
But Pombier was optimistic that the relationship will improve now that a deal is in place to improve structural safety at the halfway house.
“I believe we’ll continue to work together in good faith,” he said. “Hopefully we don’t have to go down this path again.”
Meanwhile, a real estate developer has halted plans to build condos on the Macdonald block that includes the halfway house, the Alhambra Hotel, Lamb’s Shoe Repair and Mesa Typewriter Exchange, even though the firm kept alive a potential deal to buy the properties. That means the halfway house might be sticking around at the site longer than expected just a couple of months ago.
Tucson-based Indevco Partners will continue to move forward to buy the downtown properties while it waits for the results of a study to determine if developing the site would be feasible, said company president Andrew Briefer. Yet the firm is also looking for a new site downtown to build residences, he said.
But plans have fallen through for Indevco to buy the Rodeway Inn at 951 W. Main St., which was going to be the Transitional Living Communities’ new home, Briefer said.