January 6, 2005
A group of Tempe landowners facing condemnation have banded together to fight the city’s efforts to take their property for a planned shopping center.
Del Sturman, a spokesman for the newly created Tempe Property Owners Against Governmental Theft, said members of the group are looking to hire an attorney to represent them.
Sturman, part owner of a machine shop, is one of five property owners in the group refusing to sell to developers seeking to build the $200 million Tempe Marketplace.
Miravista Holdings and Vestar still need to negotiate deals with nearly 20 property owners near Rio Salado Parkway and McClintock Drive, according to city records.
Brad Wilde, president of Miravista Holdings, said his firm has spent nearly $30 million on land acquisition and business relocation costs.
It had set aside more than $42 million to buy more than 100 parcels of land needed for the project, according to city documents.
Sturman said he would not sell at any price and is preparing for a long hard fight.
"There comes a time in your life when you have to say that money isn’t everything," he said.
City officials and developers have said that condemning the property and building the mall would deliver a public benefit, which justifies taking the land.
A recent environmental study by Brown and Caldwell, a major environmental engineering firm, found hazardous waste — including methane gas — on a number of properties. Brown and Caldwe ll was hired by the developers.
The landowners group has disputed the scope of contamination and members said they plan to hire their own environmental specialists to investigate the claims.
The property owners also plan to ask the Institute for Justice to reconsider taking their case after the nonprofit law firm announced it would not defend them.
"If they come back we will listen to what they have to say," said Tim Keller, executive director of the Institute for Justice’s Arizona chapter. "But I don’t think we will change our decision."
Keller said the Washington, D.C.-based firm does not have the time or the resources to effectively argue the case.
However, the institute will continue monitoring the situation and offer support.
The Tempe City Council will vote tonight on a resolution that would authorize the condemnation of more than 30 properties.
The council is scheduled to take public comment during its 6 p.m. Issue Review Session.
Developers also will update the council on their efforts to assemble the property.
The public is not scheduled to speak during the council’s regular 7:30 p.m. meeting, at which it will vote.
But city officials said the council is expected to make a special concession allowing for public comment.