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McClintock Fountains tree removal ignites neighbors' protest

By: Mark Moorehead

October 27, 2007

What owners of the once-upscale McClintock Fountains intended as a massive facelift has instead enraged residents of nearby neighborhoods and caused some businesses to rethink their support of the project.

West Valley Arizona, which operates the center, launched an extensive remodeling program, including removing a number of large, mature trees, after tenants suggested that their stores needed better visibility.

As the trees came down, neighbors responded with ferocity, saying they were shocked that the center’s most pleasing landscape asset was being sacrificed merely to increase visibility.

City of Tempe officials said they, too, were surprised at the extent of the cutting. After receiving complaints from irate neighbors, Jeff Tamulevich, senior planner and commercial code enforcer for Tempe, contacted the center’s owners and asked that the cutting be stopped.

Although the company had agreed in its landscape plan to leave two large trees between each driveway, according to Tamulevich, work crews took out some of those, as well.

As controversy over the project mounted, a number of residents from nearby neighborhoods gathered at the property to communicate their disapproval of the tree cutting to the new owners.

Circle G Ranch resident Penny Pease said she was outraged at what she described as “the wholesale removal of large, beautiful, healthy trees.”

Pease said part of the reason she moved to this part of Tempe was the lush mature trees along Warner Road.

“We all paid for old growth when we moved here, and all we want is for them (the property owners) to replace ash tree with ash tree, like kind for like kind,” said Pease.

There were a few exceptions regarding the replacement of trees removed with like kind. For example, none of the neighbors protesting the removal of the large trees wanted the olive trees replaced, citing allergy concerns.

And, all seemed pleased to see the removal of dead trees from the small parking-lot islands.

While residents of adjacent neighborhoods were fuming, some center tenants supported the owner’s actions, at least in principle.

“I think it’s great the landlord wants to upgrade the complex, but I wasn’t aware we would be taking down so many trees,” said Jess Dechant, an investment representative for Edward Jones, one of the center’s tenants.

“I wish we weren’t cutting down that many 30-year-old trees, especially with the afternoon sun in the parking lot.

“But his intentions are the best; he’s trying to improve the business environment for all of us in the complex,” she said.

Deschant said she attended a meeting called by the owners several weeks ago at which feedback was solicited from all the tenants.

“The overwhelming theme was that the visibility is really poor. (The owner’s) efforts are in the right place. This is a 30-year-old complex. It’s fair to say it needs to be updated,” Dechant said.

Some other business owners indicated they would have preferred to see the updating-plan shelved if they had realized it would involve removing so much existing landscaping.

“I was heartbroken and in despair when they began cutting down those gorgeous trees,” says Dr. Pamela Rupprecht of The Reading Clinic.

“I immediately went around tying green ribbons around the few remaining big trees hoping they would be spared,” she said.

Despite a growing number of protests, the owners stuck to their plan. Within 24 hours, red ribbons had been placed on many of the same trees, presumably as a signal to work crews to proceed as scheduled.



Although he suggested that he, too, prefers to keep mature trees when possible, West Valley Arizona vice president Steven Mariani said the center was overdue for a makeover.

“The mall had not been properly maintained and the landscaping was out of control,” he said.

Mariani conceded that the tree trimmers may have gone further than they should have, and not all of the trees cut down were scheduled for removal.

However, he pointed to architectural renderings of the center’s upcoming makeover, emphasizing the comprehensive nature of the planned changes.

“In addition to re-working the landscaping, we’re adding a new stone finish, new updated light fixtures and new stucco corbels and parapet caps to the building,” he said. A new architectural sign listing the names of tenant companies also will be installed.

Reworking the landscape design, said Mariani, includes plans to plant 130 new trees and 2,500 new shrubs and flowers.

The large ash and ficus trees that were removed will be replaced with smaller, low- water-usage trees such as palo verde, sweet acacia and date palm, he said. New shrubs will include bougainvillea.

Mariani was quick to point out that the current bleak, empty landscape and untidy appearance of the building are temporary and not unusual for the early stage of a remodeling project.

He urged neighbors to be patient until the project is completed before passing judgment.

McClintock Fountains was among the area’s premier centers in the early to mid-1990s. Major tenants included a Safeway store, which moved to McClintock and Elliot, and a Walgreens, which relocated across the street.

It was also during those years that holidays at McClintock Fountains became occasions for special celebrations, including carriage rides at Christmas and other events planned by the then-management company.

With the original anchor tenants gone, the center seemed to decline while new, more upscale centers sprang up elsewhere in the area.

— Don Kirkland contributed to this article



Photo by David Stone


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