Property owners in an unincorporated area of Tempe say plans to crack down on building and safety codes are just the opening salvo in an effort to seize their land for commercial development.
City officials denied there are plans to annex the Maricopa County island, but records show a prominent Tempe developer has bought $250,000 of property in the area.
Brad Wilde, chief executive of Miravista Holdings, LLC, has quietly purchased three parcels near Scottsdale and Curry roads using another corporation titled, 39 on 48, LLC.
Wilde has several projects under way or proposed near Tempe Town Lake, including a $200 million shopping center, which he plans to build on what was once a county island.
County Supervisor Fulton Brock, R-District 1 of Chandler, and Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman plan to work with Sheriff Joe Arpaio to crack down on crime and clean up the unincorporated land, which is populated by junkyards and adult businesses.
Tempe Fire Chief Cliff Jones said they are concerned about environmental hazards and building safety as the city begins looking at providing fire service to the county island. Tempe residents also have been calling for leaders to do something about the area.
Paul Pristo, a key landowner in the county island, said the move is the beginning of an effort by the city to take over his property for commercial development.
He said politicians and developers have used the same tactics — labeling the land blighted and environmentally contaminated — to annex land on the east side of town.
"It’s like the movie ‘Casablanca,’ round up the usual suspects," Pristo said. "The same people are behind this."
In 1999, the city annexed nearly 200 acres near McClintock Drive and Rio Salado Parkway. Shortly after, the city created an improvement district to redevelop the area.
The city is seeking to condemn 20 properties for Wilde and Vestar who want to build Tempe Marketplace. The city argued the land is a blighted area that needs environmental remediation.
Tempe already has used eminent domain on two projects involving Miravista Holdings and Wilde, court and city records show.
Recently, the county entered into an agreement allowing the city to take part of Pristo’s property to extend Miller Road south, through the Playa Del Norte development being developed by Wilde.
Before the city could annex the area, the council would have to approve the move, said Neil Calfee, a Tempe city planner. He said there have been no discussions among the staff regarding that possibility.
Wilde, who was unavailable for comment Wednesday and Thursday, has established a long political relationship with local city leaders.
Wilde and his wife, Janet, who are Paradise Valley residents, have contributed to every current Tempe council member except Hallman and Councilman Leonard Copple, according to campaign finance reports.
Residents of the North Tempe Neighborhood Association are asking the local authorities and leaders to step in and improve the area.
Darlene Justus, president of the association, and Evelyn Hallman, vice president of the association and mother of the mayor, have spearheaded the effort.
"This area has a tremendous effect on Tempe and on our neighborhood," Justus said.
However, less restrictive county building and safety codes could block efforts to clean up the unincorporated land, county officials said.
Many of the businesses targeted by local leaders are not violating county standards, said Tim Overstake, code enforcement supervisor for Maricopa County.
He said pressure to clean the area is driven by a culture clash, as Tempe residents seek to remove unsightly businesses that drive down property values.
"I think some Tempe residents would like to see us take the bulldozers out and level the entire area to make their property values go up," he said.
Overstake said he plans to work with Tempe and investigate suspected code violations, but he warned that residents calling for the cleanup would be disappointed.