Story and photo by Lee Shappell
Opponents of a proposed Valvoline oil-change facility at McClintock Drive and Warner Road won another rousing battle on Nov. 7 when
the Tempe City Council unanimously denied an appeal by the property owner of an earlier slap-down by the city’s Development Review Commission.
On Sept. 24 the Use Permit and Development Plan Review were denied unanimously by the commission after an outpouring of opposition from neighbors.
Diversified Partners proposes the oil-change shop on the dirt lot at Alta Mira Plaza, on the southeastern corner of the intersection, formerly the longtime home of Shell service station. The new development would consist of a single-story building with three drive-through service bays.
Disruptions mark hearing
The owners appealed the DRC commission’s decision, saying that their proposal meets every requirement.
With city fire inspectors at the door turning people away when the Tempe History Museum Community Room reached its 120-person capacity, neighbor after neighbor addressed the council to express displeasure with the plan.
Instead, the neighbors want a restaurant with patio dining on the site, similar to development a mile away at Rural and Warner that revitalized a former convenience-store space.
Further contributing to a raucous atmosphere was a large anti-police-brutality demonstration outside. Chants and speakers with bullhorns often disrupted proceedings inside.
Denial rationale questioned
Attorney Alexander Kolodin, representing the parcel’s owners, reminded the council that the property already is zoned for an oil-change facility and that it would have a positive impact on South Tempe, being less disruptive than a loud tire shop already in the center.
“Staff’s reasons for recommending denial were that the proposed project did not meet approval of the criteria for the use permit and development plan review and did not conform with the Corona-South Tempe Character Area Plan,” Kolodin told the council, which was acting in a quasi-judicial capacity to hear the appeal.
“We don‘t believe that to be true. The truth of the matter is if this service shop does not meet the requirements of General Plan 2040 then no auto- service shop ever again will be able to be built in the city of Tempe. My clients have made extreme efforts and bent over backward to try to accommodate the neighborhood, as well.”
Proposed use cited as ‘wrong space’
The proposed building would feature brick architecture, a heavily landscaped perimeter that includes trees that somewhat block the view of the building from the intersection, upgraded paving for pedestrian connections and a bush shelter.
“We reached out to no fewer than 16 restaurant operators and they all said this was the wrong space for that use, and it makes perfect sense because the only traffic in that center is from a Discount Tire and Walgreens,” Kolodin said.
“The owner even met with the managing director of The Vig and he said no way.”
Kolodin also pointed out that the site is not in a residential neighborhood. The intersection has four strip malls.
“Not everywhere in Tempe needs to be Mill Avenue,” Kolodin said.
Neighborhood activist Matt Smith, who spearheaded opposition to the project, acknowledged that Diversified’s appeal to the council ”is reasonable.” He and other opponents, however, said that their objection
is based on their vision for another use for the site. Most want the patio- restaurant use, Smith said.
96.9% cited as opposed to plan
Smith pointed out that of 772 respondents to the Development Review Commission’s request for neighborhood input, representing 11 South Tempe neighborhoods in the
85283 and 85284 ZIP codes, 96.9 percent oppose the Valvoline plan. “I hear the appeal. I think their
appeal is reasonable,” Smith said. “But I also have deep skepticism
of some key points. You can’t dismiss the neighborhood as damaged goods because there’a a Plato’s Closet or a Zipps Sports Grill there because at the same time Valvoline can’t wait to have access to the demographic because it is one of the top three ZIP codes in the state,” Smith said.
“I’m also skeptical about the idea that we are stuck with this dirt lot. It was the tearing down of the existing structure that prompted this process that allowed neighbors to say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m looking for in my neighborhood. There are always partnerships that can be made to secure tenants, so to say
all these restaurants are unwilling to touch south Tempe – I’m a little incredulous.”
Property owner Walt Brown emphasized that he followed every city procedure and met every city standard in his use request for the site, which he values at about $2.1 million.
“There is a lot of passion in this room,” Brown said. “I’ve invested
in this corner because I like South Tempe. We’re very passionate about the site. We want to do the right thing. Valvoline is a 155-year-old company that decided through our negotiations to scrape the entire site, landscape
it, hide this new building, agreed 100 percent with city staff stipulations
and then they didn’t put us on (City Council consent agenda) because of the neighbors. We understand it.
“It’s amazing to me that the planner isn’t here tonight for some reason, so there is some stuff there that I think we need to talk about the facts. I can tell you we worked our butts off. Tried to do the right thing. We’re here hat in hand to try to convey that.”
In denying the appeal, Council members said they were moved by the overwhelming opposition of the neighborhood.
The appeal denial might not yet be the end, however.
Brown could pursue legal action. Kolodin refused to speculate on whether any further action might be forthcoming, saying he was not authorized to divulge information.