A vacant lot in South Tempe will likely become home to a Valvoline lube shop, in spite of opposition by many of those who live near the site.
Last November, residents of the upscale neighborhoods near the southeast corner of McClintock Drive and Warner Road rallied to persuade the Tempe City Council to vote unanimously against an appeal by the property owner. About 1,000 people had signed a petition expressing their displeasure at the then-proposed development.
At the time, Diversified Partners was asking the council to overturn a decision by the city’s Development Review Commission to deny a use permit.
Those familiar with the situation opined the city council’s repudiation would not be the last word on the matter. And it wasn’t.
Twenty-four hours prior to the council’s May 27 meeting, area residents received an email from the city of Tempe advising them the property owner had filed a claim against the city for $2.1 million plus legal fees. A negotiated settlement granting a use permit for the Valvoline project was to be voted on.
Kris Baxter, a public information officer for Tempe, acknowledged the city had received feedback from residents prior to the city council meeting.
“They came in on both sides of the issue,” Baxter said. Not everyone in the area, she said, was opposed to the project.
Ultimately, everyone on the council, except South Tempe resident and council member Jennifer Adams, voted in favor of the settlement and use permit.
“I wasn’t in agreement with it because the neighborhood didn’t want it. And what the neighborhood desires or wishes for—that matters to me,” Adams said.
“Any time I can take the neighbors’ side, I will. That’s been one of my top priorities since I’ve been on council.”
South Tempe Realtor Nick Bastian lives near the site and also weighed in on the project. He acknowledged many residents’ desire for a type of amenity on the site but pointed to private property rights as a concern.
“This is one of those ones where it’s a little weird for me because I stand firmly in the middle,” he said. “I think a lot of people would like something really cool or high end—maybe a wine or sushi place.
“I also really feel like the private-property-rights issue has to be looked at really carefully. When we start picking winners and losers just based on what the community thinks should go there, versus what an owner of a property is legally able to do, I think it becomes kind of a slippery slope.”
Several years ago, the city of Tempe developed eight character areas, South Tempe among them. The character areas were designed to be one way the city conveys the vision and goal of each area. City planners refer to the character areas when working with businesses and developers. That said, the character areas are guidelines—but not law.
The city’s website, tempe.gov/, refers to the designated areas but cautions that although “we care about what you want… we cannot violate the law or take away someone’s private property rights.”
Matt Smith and his family live within walking distance of the future home of Valvoline. “Like a lot of South Tempe residents, we hoped for something that would build community, maybe a fun café or a restaurant, and Valvoline does none of that,” Smith said.
In spite of the city council’s vote in favor of the settlement and use permit, he remains optimistic.
“I don’t think the city of Tempe has ever been held so accountable to the character areas plan. People showed up in force and they represented their community, and every step along the way, it’s as if our voice got louder and louder.
“I’m very proud of that.”
Ron Tapscott, who also lives near the empty lot, said he wasn’t surprised by the council’s vote.
“The city of Tempe has a very long history of folding under pressure when lawsuits are threatened,” Tapscott said. In his opinion, there are two types of developers: those who are “very sensitive to neighborhood concerns and wishes and are involved in working with neighborhoods to alter their projects to be more in align with the sentiment of the community,” and those that aren’t.
“They didn’t really want input from the neighborhood. They came in with a particular idea of what they wanted developed on that corner and then pursued it through the process,” Tapscott said.
Now that the owners have secured a use permit for a Valvoline, they must seek a building permit. What, if anything, can residents do? Not much, it turns out.
“What I was hoping for was to keep working with the property owners to come up with a compromise between the neighborhood and developer,” Adams said. “In Arizona, the property owners have a lot of rights. We were swimming against the stream on this one.”
The email from the city of Tempe prior to the council meeting noted that both members of the Development Review Commission as well as city councilmembers “heard your concerns about the development and tried to fulfill the wishes of the area community by denying a use permit for the project.” The lawsuit filed by the property owners changed all that.
Still, “property enhancements that had been recommended by staff that Valvoline had originally declined to incorporate into the project, such as setback service bays and improved paving near walkways, were agreed to,” the email goes on to say.
The city will not pay out any money as a result of the settlement.