Apr 5, 2024 - News

Valley cities consider strengthening preservation rules as Al Beadle home faces demolition

A sign that says, "Demolition Request" outside of a mid-century modern building.

A demolition request was posted outside Al Beadle's White Gates house last month. Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios Phoenix

Arizona cities are exploring small changes that historical preservationists hope will have an outsized impact on the municipalities' ability to save historic structures.

Why it matters: The proposed policies could make it more expensive and time-consuming to raze buildings with important historical and cultural meaning — like an iconic Al Beadle house that a new owner is trying to demolish near the base of Camelback Mountain.

The big picture: Arizona cities enforce minimal historic preservation protections because they're fearful of lawsuits under the state's strong property rights laws — which community activists say has allowed many historically significant buildings to be destroyed over the past two decades.

Yes, but: Some cities — under pressure from activists — are taking baby steps toward strengthening their rules.

The latest: Advocates are using the threat of losing Beadle's White Gates home to build support for what they see as a larger fix to a preservation problem in the Valley.

  • Valley business leader Lauren Bailey — whose restaurant Federal Pizza is in a restored Beadle building — tells Axios Phoenix she is organizing a group of stakeholders to push for stronger preservation protections and harsher punishments for owners who disregard them.
  • "I'm counting on Phoenix to step up to the plate and set the tone for other cities to follow," she says.

Zoom in: Phoenix historic preservation officer Helana Ruter tells Axios Phoenix her office is already in the process of updating the city's historic preservation plan and may ask the council to lengthen demolition delays and increase punishment for illegal demolition.

  • Currently, there's a one-year demolition hold for structures on the city's historic registry, and a 30-day delay for buildings eligible for preservation because of their age or significance.
  • And as it stands, the penalty for illegal demolition is nominal — just double the cost of their demolition permits.
  • The goal of both changes would be to allow the community time to work with a property owner to see if there are other options besides demolition, Ruter says.

Meanwhile, Tempe is also considering an ordinance that would increase its demolition delays, and Chandler last year made it easier to create historic preservation districts.

Reality check: While there may be room for changes that make it more burdensome for people to raze buildings, state law likely won't allow cities to outright forbid it.

  • The biggest historic preservation successes in Arizona — like the David and Gladys Wright House — have come not at the hands of a government policy, but owners' desire to avoid public backlash as a result of a demolition. That's likely to continue.

The bottom line: "The public has the largest role. It really is a public process and that's the real beauty of it," state historic preservation office Kathryn Leonard tells Axios Phoenix.

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