Phoenix has told a developer to halt progress on two 30-story buildings in downtown Tempe because they may pose a danger to airplanes.
Phoenix’s aviation director told Centerpoint Condominiums to stop until the Federal Aviation Administration says it’s OK to build the 343-foot towers.
The FAA previously approved a 22-story version of the project, which was 85 feet shorter.
But Avenue Communities’ new plan needs another review, aviation director David Krietor told Avenue Communities in a Jan. 25 letter obtained by the Tribune.
“It is surprising to us that you are going through the expense of planning your project without completing the required FAA obstruction analysis,” Krietor wrote.
“Centerpoint cannot proceed until FAA conducts an obstruction analysis of the new height.”
Crews have nearly finished excavating a hole several stories deep for a parking structure beneath the towers at Sixth Street and Ash Avenue. The company still plans to build 30-story towers, Avenue Communities spokeswoman Margie D’Andrea said Friday.
She wouldn’t comment any further.
The condo towers are outside the flight path, but they’re in an area planes may need to use if one engine fails during takeoff from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. They could interfere with the space planes would need in such an emergency, Krietor wrote, and have a “severe” impact on flight procedures. Krietor wrote this could result in more noise, greater restrictions on flight operations and a blow to the economic benefits from having the world’s fifth busiest airport.
The additional height could pose no risk, airport spokeswoman Deborah Ostreicher said. But Phoenix is pushing for Avenue Communities to have the FAA research its taller building.
“It may be safe, but it would be nice to know that the FAA, in all of their experiences, would say that it’s safe,” Ostreicher said.
An FAA official in Washington state said he wasn’t prepared to comment Friday.
This isn’t the first Tempe project that Phoenix officials have questioned because of Sky Harbor. The city objected to a proposed Cardinals Stadium near Washington Street and Priest Drive in 2001, saying it posed a hazard to airline passengers. The FAA said the site was unsafe, and Tempe lost the stadium.
One downtown business owner who has followed Tempe’s dealings with Sky Harbor questioned some of the logic with Phoenix’s concerns. Vic Linoff — who also holds a pilot’s license — said the Centerpoint towers are outside the flight path that planes are supposed to use. Yet Hayden Butte, which is 332 feet tall, has planes above it constantly because it’s in the flight path.
“The butte is more of an impediment to flight safety than these buildings would be, and aircraft go right over the butte,” Linoff said.
Phoenix and Tempe officials have waged major battles over Sky Harbor for years.
Tempe once sued Phoenix over noise issues, but Tempe dropped the suit several years ago as officials in both communities pledged to end their hostility toward each other.
Several Tempe officials said they couldn’t say much about the issue because they had only recently seen the letter or had just heard of it.
Councilman Hut Hutson said he plans to take up the issue with Krietor at an appointment next week.
“I didn’t like the letter,” Hutson said.