Mesa messy yard cops shake down Fiesta Village shopping center!!!!
Fiesta Village owner appeals sign demolition order
by Gary Nelson - Mar. 1, 2011 10:29 AM
The Arizona Republic
The battle over Fiesta Village's signs has moved into the courtroom.
W.M. Grace Development Co., which owns the empty shopping center at Alma School Road and Southern Avenue, has appealed a hearing officer's order to remove the large, blank signs that stand as monuments to the center's long-gone glory days.
The order was issued Jan. 5, the latest act in years of dickering over possible redevelopment plans and ongoing battles over code compliance at the fenced-off property. Hearing officer John Gendron gave Grace 90 days to take down the signs.
Instead, Grace appealed Gendron's order to Maricopa County Superior Court, asking a judge to declare it invalid under state law.
Donna Bronski, an assistant city attorney, said Mesa may acquiesce in Grace's request for a stay of Gendron's order, meaning the signs are likely to survive the early-April deadline. An out-of-court settlement is possible, with Bronski saying a court battle might not be worth the time and money Mesa would have to spend on it.
Grace's appeal outlined the long saga from the company's perspective, beginning with efforts to redevelop the site in the middle of the past decade as the once-popular center's tenant base dwindled to zero.
Grace blamed the economy and the city for the plight of its property.
"The property is vacant as a result of the unprecedented bad economy of the past few years in Arizona and Mesa's refusal to allow reasonable redevelopment efforts by Grace after Grace took steps to prepare for redevelopment in reliance on representations of Mesa," the appeal says.
Regarding the signs themselves, the company says, "It has always been Grace's intent to keep the signs and maintain its legal right to the signage therein." It asserts that the signs are "legal non-conforming uses and have not been voluntarily discontinued."
Grace made that claim despite the fact that the signs advertise nothing; even the words "Fiesta Village" were erased when the company repainted and repaired the signs in January. A graffiti vandal recently defaced the large sign along Alma School Road, as well as a nearby smaller sign that used to advertise a Mexican restaurant.
Mike Pearlstein, a Grace vice president, said during the Jan. 5 code compliance hearing that although the signs are blank, they still serve to advertise the availability of the site for redevelopment.
In addition to asserting that Gendron acted capriciously, Grace's appeal says his ruling is moot because under state statute, only a county Superior Court has the power to order the removal of signs.
In addition to battling over the signs, Mesa has asked Grace to clean up numerous other issues on the property, and dropped other elements of its code-compliance case in early January after Grace complied.
Mesa officials have said the site would be ideal for some sort of urban mixed-use development. But with the economy offering little immediate hope for that, Grace President Howard Grace said in January the company will seek to reopen at least some of the existing buildings for retail.