By Noah Kutz & Joyce Coronel
For decades, the northwest corner of Rural and Warner roads in South Tempe has stood vacant. Now, if a developer gains the city’s approval, a restaurant, day-care center and coffee shop could take shape on that site.
After news of the plan reached nearby homeowners, a bright red zoning notice popped up on the empty lot where dust, broken glass and scattered weeds reign. A meeting to discuss the proposal is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, at Corona del Sol High School.
Wrangler News spoke several days later with residents of a neighborhood adjacent to the proposed development. Many of the custom homes along 71st Street in the Tally Ho subdivision are horse properties, some valued in excess of $1 million.
Strolling through the neighborhood, the cry of roosters and peacocks, along with the occasional jackrabbit or slithering garter snake, hearken to the area’s rural roots.
The neighborhood was established in the 1960s when much of the surrounding area was farmland. A letter dated April 29 from Withey Morris PLC, a Phoenix-based law firm, was mailed to residents of the Tally Ho neighborhood, stating that the firm represents Armstrong Development Inc. in a bid to develop the 3.7-acre site at the intersection’s northwest corner.
The developer’s application to the city is for “a small, boutique neighborhood-style commercial center,” the letter reads. “The project includes a 10,000 square foot daycare center and just over 16,000 square feet of retail / restaurant space connected by a series of exterior walkways, patios, shade canopies and an abundance of landscaping.”
One Tally Ho resident, who did not wish to be identified, said she prefers to have a smaller and quieter solution to the parcel’s vacancy, rather than a bar or coffee shop. A commercial development like that, in her opinion, would cause increased traffic and safety hazards close to her home.
“It would also have to be something very upscale,” she says, “The city of Tempe needs to work for the people that live in the city of Tempe, not work for the government of Tempe and what the government of Tempe wants.”
Other neighbors on the same street said they favored having an additional restaurant and bar on the corner of Rural and Warner. Tempe Public Market Café, across the street on the northeast corner of the intersection, has become a popular attraction since opening in 2018.
Tempe resident and Realtor Nick Bastian, who helped head-off a smoke shop at McClintock and Warner in recent years, offered his take on the proposed development at Rural and Warner.
“I think the developer does know that there’s concern from the community on what happens at that corner and how that corner means a lot to this area,” Bastian said, adding that because developers are aware of concern from the neighborhood, they wouldn’t propose a project that would produce a backlash from the South Tempe community. “There will be about four different buildings over there with parking in the middle and nice quality development,” Bastian said. “It’s not going to be a high rise, and it’s not going to be super high-density.”
Bastian maintains the idea of adding more residential properties to the lot is simply an unrealistic suggestion and that the benefit for the community of having breakfast, coffee and daycare buildings would become a strong argument when up for review with Tempe’s zoning board.
Kris Baxter-Ging, a public information officer for Tempe, confirmed via email that the city is aware of the proposed project at the intersection.
“The City of Tempe Community Development Department has received a preliminary submittal for this project and is reviewing it. The project will be scheduled to come before the Development Review Commission after a formal application has been received. Staff will be in attendance at the May 15 public meeting.”
Jennifer Eggert of Orion Investment Real Estate accknowledged the proposed development of the parcel. “At the moment, we can confirm there will be a daycare user and at least one restaurant and we will be targetting other high-end service users (hair salon, yoga, waxing, etc.) for the remaining space, along with coffee and potentially one other restaurant but we cannot disclose names at this time,” she wrote in an email to Wrangler News.
The April 29 letter to residents from Withey Morris came as no surprise to Bill Fautsch, who owns some of the acreage that could be developed. Fautsch said he’s spoken to his neighbors and many favor his plan.
He also referred to a law that he said was passed by the Arizona Legislature and signed by the governor that allows neighborhood associations to change their covenants, conditions and restrictions with 51 percent approval of the homeowners.
Previously, he said, unanimous support was needed. As to a petition Fautsch circulated seeking support for his planned project, he said he met with considerable success. “I started collecting the signatures and I more than exceeded my goal,” he said. “It’s going to be really cool—it’s going to be beautiful.”
Not everyone agrees, however. One couple, who have lived in Tally Ho Farms for 20 years, are adamantly opposed to the project but likewise did not want to be identified. They
say several of their neighbors feel the same way and don’t want commercial development of the site.
“There can be no commercial development for any of the lots in this subdivision,” the man said. “We’ve been fighting this battle for 15 years in this neighborhood. The [new] law can’t override the covenants. It takes a vote of the property owners to override the covenants.”
When told of Fautsch’s assertion that he has more than exceeded his goal of getting 51 percent of neighbors on board with the plan for commercial development, the man expressed doubt. “That’s news to me,” he said. His wife agreed. “If he did that, wouldn’t he have had to at least ask everyone?” she said.
“Fautsch and his partners bought that property thinking they could develop it without an understanding of the restrictive covenants,” the man said. “And it’s no secret. They’re written into every deed for every property in this subdivision.”
The couple recalled previous attempts to place a commercial development on the vacant land. Those attempts included a memory-care facility and a pharmacy, both foiled and both supported by Fautsch.
The unidentified man alleges that Fautsch approaches parties he thinks might be interested in developing the parcel of land, secures a preliminary agreement and then approaches neighbors and tells them he’s got a “done deal.”
Once the lawyers for the potential developer get involved, “they do the due diligence, they look at the covenants and they’re like ‘What the hell? We can’t do that.’”
The unidentified couple said the neighborhood hired a law firm previously to fight Fautsch’s attempts to develop the vacant lot.
“We’re not interested in changing the covenants,” the woman said.
“I’m not afraid of him (Fautsch),” the man said. “I just don’t want to deal with his nonsense.”