America the Messy Yard Police State

Arizona steals Tempe home after 118 years

I think this home is on the lot of land just west of the railroad tracks and probably north of First street.

The lot is covered with junk and I always wondered why the messy yard cops didn't steal their land. This is a good example of how the Tempe messy yard cops selectively enforce the messy yard laws.

Back before 1995 or 1994 a big dog came off the lot as I was riding my bike in the area.

I think the lot is also just south of the "Tempe Town Toilet" or "Tempe Town Lake" as the rulers of Tempe call it.

I beleive the Union Pacific train station is next to that McCayo's Mexican bar or restaurant on the east side of the railroad tracks.


After 118 years, state makes claim on Tempe family's home

Posted: Saturday, November 13, 2010 3:00 pm

Garin Groff, Tribune

Two decades before Arizona became a state, the Sussex family settled on a patch of Tempe land where generations witnessed the city grow up around their property.

But the property wasn't the family's to live on, the state is saying 118 years later.

Arizona is booting the family from the one-acre parcel, arguing that the first Sussex descendant didn't even have a right to lease the land in 1892.

The family remains there, living in an adobe house dating to 1880. A court has ruled the family is trespassing and must leave even as the family's attorney is appealing the ruling.

One of the earliest documented reasons for the state to evict the family dates to 1934, when Arizona cancelled a lease for nonpayment. While Arizona has questioned the family's rights for decades, only recently have officials taken meaningful action.

Family attorney Greg Robinson said the state lost its rights to the land after letting the issue lapse for so long.

"They go from one administration to the next, and unless somebody is complaining, nobody is thinking about it," Robinson said. "So it's off the radar most of the time."

But the parcel's location popped onto everybody's radar in the prior decade's development boom.

At 302 W. 1st St., the property borders the Union Pacific rail line and is just south of the Salt River. Metro light-rail trains whoosh by the property. Trendy condos and apartments have sprung up to the west, and those residents have pressured the city to have the family clean up the cars, construction equipment, trailers and ramshackle structures scattered across the dirt lot.

Steve Sussex inherited the property from his grandparents, who he said once owned 25 acres that reached the Salt River's banks. The family saw the farmland shrink in bits and pieces long ago, he said.

"They never stuck up for themselves back then," Sussex said.

His grandfather came from Canada to build the railroad bridge that opened in 1912, and he met Sussex's grandmother while staying in a tiny cabin on the property. Family members have occupied the land continuously since 1892, Sussex said, adding the adobe house was without indoor plumbing or electricity until he made improvements a few decades ago.

"My family was born in that house and died in that house," Sussex said.

Only three homes from Tempe's first decade survive, including one that's even older and another that was built the same year Roman Gonzales constructed the home.

Sussex descendant Jesus Martinez bought the home in 1892. The state argues in legal briefings that Gonzalez had rights to lease the property because he built the structure, but that Martinez didn't have the same rights.

The family didn't pay property taxes at least as far back as the 1930s, Sussex said, recalling his grandmother said the family didn't have to because her husband was a WWI veteran.

The state leased the land to the Martinez family in 1930 but terminated the lease in 1934 for nonpayment. The state sold the land in 1956 to another person, but took it back when the buyer stopped payment.

In the late 1950s, the state issued a $1,510 check to the Sussex family to compensate them for tearing down structures when 1st Street was built. A State Land Department memo from the time questions whether the family should be paid because they weren't named on the lease for the property.

Robinson said the federal government held the land's title from 1902 to 1945, and the state had questionable ownership after that.

"The state didn't clear up their true title to the land until 1963," Robinson said. "And before that, they were buying and selling or leasing land that they didn't have a perfected title on."

Sussex got a letter from the state in 2004 telling him to leave. Enclosed was a check for $5. The dispute went to court in 2005.

Now, the State Land Department is asking the Sussex family for compensation. They want at least the amount of rent Sussex collected since 1992 from leasing space to a contractor.

The land department doesn't comment on any matter in litigation, Commissioner Maria Baier said.

Sussex said he will fight to keep the land. If he loses it, he believes the state should pay him.

"We were there before it was a state, 120 years, and we're trespassers?" he said of the state's position. "I don't know how all this stuff works."


America the Messy Yard Police State