The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has filed a lawsuit against the Third Avenue Lofts’ developer and architect, alleging the downtown Scottsdale residential development discriminates against the disabled.
Third Avenue Lofts and Woolsey Studio, which served as architect and interior designer, have violated the Arizona Fair Housing Act, the lawsuit states. Since 1991, the act has mandated that new multifamily complexes be fully accessible to the disabled.
The suit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court on Monday, seeks to force the developer and architect to pay for alterations to the lofts and fines of up to $150,000.
The attorney general’s office launched an investigation based on a complaint from Lunsford Phillips, a disabled Hawaii resident who toured the urban-style and red-brick lofts in September when considering a move to Arizona.
Phillips told state investigators that in each of the four lofts he viewed, the bedrooms and bathrooms were built on a platform, making it impossible for him to enter the rooms in his wheelchair without installing lifts.
State investigators found that the community areas of the upscale development also lacked accommodations for those with disabilities.
Phillips, reached at his home in Honolulu, declined comment on the lawsuit. He initially filed a complaint against Third Avenue with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Margie D’Andrea, a Third Avenue spokeswoman, said the firm would not discuss the lawsuit.
"I can just tell you that we’re aware of the claim and that we’re working with all the appropriate parties to resolve it," D’Andrea said. "And I won’t go into any specifics as to exactly what it is that we are or aren’t resolving at this point but, you know, we’re not ignoring it."
Kristine Woolsey, head of Woolsey Studio, did not return calls for comment Friday.
Tom Barrs, a senior plans examiner for Scottsdale, received a letter from the construction firm building the lofts in July 2002 that stated that only 40 percent of the units would be built as accessible for the disabled.
Barrs did not return calls for comment Friday.
Andrea Esquer, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said her agency is adamant that the lofts be retrofitted to be accessible for the disabled, as it has been in other cases.
As part of a June 2004 settlement, Le Mirage Investment Corp. replaced the entryways to 80 units of a Tucson apartment complex and brought a number of its amenities in the community areas into compliance with fair housing standards.
"They had to work around the residents," Esquer said.
Le Mirage was also required to provide 80 more housing units in Tucson that complied with state standards and pay $20,000 in penalties and fees.
Because the Third Avenue Lofts are purchased, rather than rented, the alterations would likely be completed differently than they were in Tucson. One way to do it, Esquer said, is for the developer and architect to open an escrow account to pay for the changes when new owners purchase the lofts.
Third Avenue and Woolsey were presented with the attorney general’s findings on June 30 and did not come to a settlement with the agency during July, which could have prevented the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also seeks punitive damages for mental and emotional distress Phillips said he suffered.
Phillips has filed numerous lawsuits against Hawaiian businesses and governments over violations of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which outlaws discrimination against the disabled, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.