Tempe's case against the property owners Ninth and Ash LLC over illegal parking spots seems to be municipal minutiae. It's not.
Tempe's case against the property owners Ninth and Ash LLC over illegal parking spots seems to be municipal minutiae.
To many residents of the Maple-Ash neighborhood, west of Mill Avenue and the Arizona State University campus, this legal proceeding is just the latest battle in a long-running war with nothing less at stake than the charming district's future.
The combatants are homeowners versus developers, patrons of the landmark tavern Casey Moore's against people who believe the bar ruins the peace. And caught in the middle are city officials, who must endure angry accusations of favoritism from both sides.
"What happens over time is everybody gets convinced, after losing their case at any point in history ... that we're corrupt, that we take sides," said Chris Anaradian, Tempe's development services manager.
How a code violation fits into the larger narrative can be explained by how both Casey's and some newer multifamily developments fit into Tempe's oldest neighborhood. Some want to keep the quaint character and community feeling, while others don't see why they can't take part in downtown Tempe's growth.
Across Ninth Street from Casey's are four houses on two lots, owned by Ninth and Ash LLC. One of the co-owners of Ninth and Ash is also a co-owner of Casey's.
One of the few undisputed matters is that a front yard was turned into a small parking lot, which was used by bar patrons. Changing the property's parking plan without the city's permission is punishable by as much as six months in jail and a $2,500 fine, said Andrew Davidson, assistant city prosecutor.
Because the property owners are now working to set things right, Davidson has filed a motion to postpone the hearing, which had been scheduled for Monday afternoon. If the property is brought into compliance, the matter will be dropped.
"Obviously, the city has a bunch of rules for the right reasons," David Arkules, the man who holds a stake in both Casey's and Ninth and Ash, said Thursday during a visit by Tempe officials and prosecutors.
But Arkules and business partner Patty St. Vincent believe a neighboring developer is pushing the city to take them to court. Directly south of the Ninth and Ash properties are nine town houses underconstruction, the Sienna Court Lofts. The architect and contractor is Rick Hondorp - and Arkules and St. Vincent say he wants their land.
"He has had his eye on this property," St. Vincent said. "He thinks the more he chips away, he will eventually knock us out."
Hondorp, through his attorney, declined to comment.
A neighbor siding with Hondorp picked up the slack.
"No bar owner has the right to convert residential front yards to commercial parking - period," said Dan Durrenberger, a longtime critic of Casey's.
But Durrenberger doesn't believe Hondorp is trying to force out his neighbors.
"No one wants their silly bar," he said.
One of the squabbles between the property owners ended up in court, with Hondorp prevailing. His attorney, Charles Wirken, said Ninth and Ash blocked a driveway that gave Hondorp's land access to and from Ninth Street.
If there is a point of agreement between the sides, it is that the city is a tool of the other.
During Thursday's meeting, Arkules alluded to that sentiment enough that Davidson of the city prosecutor's office felt compelled to speak up.
Hondorp "is not my boss," Davidson said.
Meanwhile, Durrenberger accused the city of making a halfhearted effort to enforce its own laws, citing the parking issue.
"The city of Tempe would never tolerate on Mill Avenue the bar-related behaviors emanating from Casey Moore's that are foisted on this neighborhood daily," Durrenberger said.
Anaradian doesn't believe the two sides in what he sardonically labeled "a unique place" will ever see eye to eye. And in the meantime, he doesn't want to referee.
“The rest of the 41 square miles of the city also depends on us to do our job for them,” Anaradian said. “I don’t want to create a subsection of the planning department that camps out on Maple-Ash, trying to solve everybody’s problems for them.”