Council Green-lights Turney Ave. Storage Project; Stacy Louis Speaks Publicly



August interview with developers: 

August interview with architect:

Via two unanimous votes, the Phoenix City Council approved Wednesday the required zoning changes to allow an artistically-influenced, 4 story storage facility to be built on a residential street off 7th Ave. in Melrose.

The 90k square foot private project, estimated around $7 million, sat on hold for nearly a year as Scottsdale based developers Bruce and Kim Raskin negotiated with Melrose neighborhood leaders, resulting in what some suggest should be the model for future Phoenix infill development.

The Raskin’s were required to obtain a special-use permit for self-storage as well as a height waiver to build over 36 feet. A Phoenix zoning administrator determined last fall that self-storage conformed to the underlying commercial zoning and did not conflict with the Seventh Avenue Urban Main Street Overlay as some believed. Watch the hearing on Phoenix Channel 11 (skip to approximately 00:55.) 

Though City Staff said the project was not consistent with the Phoenix General Plan in December, Planning and Development Director Alan Stephenson told the Council it was consistent with the General Plan Wednesday.

“The General plan requires development to fit into the character of what’s there,” Stephenson said. “Trying to incorporate the elements of the Merchants association and what they’re trying to do there, and the height in the area it is consistent.”

According to Stephenson, the General plan also required that storage specifically have access to an arterial street. The Raskin’s property does not, however Stephenson told the Council an easement the Raksins hold runs through a neighboring night club and satisfies this requirement.

Support and opposition at the mid-afternoon hearing was divided down the line between those who represent Melrose in community associations, and several residents who said they were excluded from the design process. The only neighbor adjacent to the project to speak at any public hearings said he was neutral.

SUPPORT: “We support it in full. It’s off of Seventh Avenue, there’s going to be no traffic, dust, or light pollution.” – Charley Jones, President of the Community Alliance of Seventh Avenue (C.A.S.A.) and the Pierson Place Historic District.

OPPOSED: “None of us in the direct neighborhood this is in support this project. I don’t want (Melrose) to become known as the Storage District.” – Will Gardner, resident of Roma Ave, one block north of the project.

SUPPORT: “The Raskins listened, delayed, re-grouped, and they engaged our community in a way that resulted in what should be a model for all developers.” – Pam Pawlowski, Grandview Association President and C.A.S.A. Secretary.”

NEUTRAL: “The Raskins have been very above board and fair to me. I am neutral because of the community outreach. I wonder ‘why’ when all seven (Melrose associations) were against this (at first) and then (the project) is commended by the Phoenix Planning Commission for how well they communicated. Sure, I’m going to lose parking, but I feel good about this going forward.” – Stacy Louis, owner of Stacy’s @ Melrose Night Club next door. (Louis currently rents parking from the Raskins under a shared parking agreement on file with the City. As of December he had not negotiated a resolution but told T.M.L. he and the Raskin’s were communicating.)

OPPOSED: “Melrose is going to fall to death by a thousand cuts just like Roosevelt (Row.) These property values are going to decrease. When I look outside my door, instead of seeing palm trees I’m going to see storage facility.” – Brianna Klink, resident of Roma Ave. (Klink appealed the Planning Commission’s January approval which resulted in February’s hearing.)

OPPOSED:  “The ghost of bad and crazy zoning from the past is coming back to haunt us. There are 34 online storage facilities within five miles. There is no emergent need that justifies bending (planning and zoning) rules, and not to address issues such as ingress and egress.” – Rachel Ratullio, resident of Turney Avenue.

OPPOSED: “When you look at the (Melrose Arch) and the neighborhood you see the history. In that history you see value. Melrose is all about enjoying yourself and having a a good time in a safe manner. I think we’re hurting our historical values in this great city.” – Roman Reyes, resident of Roma Avenue.

SUPPORT: “What we have here is a long abandoned commercial property which used to be a distribution center for a wholesale florist. It’s been vacant for years now. We’ve analyzed multiple uses and talked to multiple investors. This is what came out of it. The fact of the matter is this is a very challenging spot. This is the best opportunity we have to take an eyesore (…) and turn it into something that’s innocuous and good looking.” – Mike Poulton, President of the Seventh Avenue Merchants Association.

OPPOSED: “We weren’t contacted in the very beginning. It was Pierson Place, not Yaple Park.  If you want to do storage, do storage, but don’t add height to the district. I look out my door now and I see (The Curve Luxury Apartments) and now I’m going to see storage. I don’t want to see it.” Cynthia Lee, Roma Avenue resident.

The project passed the Encanto Village Planning Committee by a vote of 12-2 in December, with Encanto historian G.G. George voting against it. “It’s not appropriate in context of the neighborhood,” she said in December. The Raskin’s property is not listed as historic, but the Yaple Park neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Negotiations Revolved Around Community Involvement:

“I’ve never been associated with an application quite like this,” said Jason Morris, of Withey Morris P.L.C., the project’s zoning attorney. “The design in a large part for this building comes from the community.”

The Raskin’s original aim for renovating the existing, vacant 13k sq. foot building was an athletic club, but they shifted to storage after a disagreement with partners and an end-user tenant in late 2016. The Raskin’s moved forward on a design for self-storage that almost mirrored the neighboring Curve Luxury Apartments building.

“There was significant pushback by the neighborhood,” Morris told the Council. “It was seen as another muted, stucco building.” After intense objections at an initial outreach meeting, the Raskins hired Morris and outreach coordinator Tom Bilstein, son of former Phoenix Councilwoman Peggy Bilstein and the team began to meet with Melrose community leaders.

Shortly after, the Raskins also hired architects Local Studios and 180 Degrees – the latter has an office in Melrose – to present contrasting designs for the building to the neighborhood. Alongside their chief designer Don Andrews of Andrews Design Group, the three firms answered questions and took feedback from the audience of about 30 (about half were not already involved in some way.)

The Raskins then judged the designs along with board members from the Seventh Avenue Merchants Association, C.A.S.A., and even a member of the Encanto Village Planning Committee. The result was the current, cylindrical facade which incorporates materials Morris said are reminiscent of the neighborhood, and a replica of the Melrose Arch.

“They engaged our community in what should be a model for all developers,” said Melrose activist Pam Pawlowski, who sits on several boards and was one of the judges.

Though the “competition” was originally intended to be scored by 7 judges, five filled out ballots including Bruce Raskin. Others included Phoenix Planning Commissioner Rebecca Winninger and Kenyatta Turner of S.A.M.A., though neither actually live in Melrose.

No residents or business owners adjacent to the project were judges, and the other architects who participated in the charette have had minimal involvement since.

Unusual Solution with a Common Product:

District 4 Councilwoman Laura Pastor asked Morris during Wednesday’s hearing to confirm that approximately 2k square feet of space is being reserved inside the storage facility for community or public work space. Morris said the exact programming has not been determined – whether or not that space will be for lease or short term rental –  but the Raskin’s are “donating” the space which would otherwise be storage units.

The community space component was not stipulated in the zoning application, or any documents available via public record as of January. Councilwoman Laura Pastor did not return phone calls prior to February’s hearing but a source inside her office said she planned to support the project.

Night club owner Stacy Louis was notably silent during previous public hearings. Morris told the Council an easement is in place through the parking lot of his bar, Stacy’s @ Melrose, which will grant the access required to 7th Avenue. Louis told T.M.L. numerous times in the fall, “I’m very concerned about the parking” and “This could affect my business.”

The project design team has repeated throughout the process that storage has one of the lowest impacts on traffic of all commercial uses. Morris and Andrews both said that self-storage, on a average, generates about 1.7 car trips per hour, less than the average residential home. At least half-a-dozen storage facilities are operating within 2 square miles of Turney and 7th Avenue.

“As we’re seeing an influx of (residents) in the central city, it’s not like these houses themselves are growing,” Morris told the Council. “They’re not sprouting garages and basements.”

Some estimates put over thirty storage facilities within a 5 mile radius of downtown.

“The first of the month is pretty busy,” said Mindy Leon, manager of Right Space storage on Pierson Street (about 7 blocks north of Turney and across 7th Ave.) “The first week of the month you’ll get 5-10 people a day, then in the middle of the month it’s nobody, then the end is really about paying.”

Leon said her facility is about 99% full.”If you’re full you don’t see anybody,” Leon said. “There’s no reason to come here. They store and let it sit, because our business is based on procrastination.”

Leon said the storage industry is changing, and becoming very corporate. “The corporations are swooping in and buying out the mom-and-pop’s,” she said. “The whole live on sight thing, you’re not going to see that much longer.”

The Raskins said they will hire a company to manage the facility in August but declined to discuss their long term plans.

“No one ever came in and talked to me,” said Bob B., owner of Sunrise Market next door. He said he was neither for nor against storage.

Retired engineer Palmer Chalela lives across Turney Ave. and supports re-development of the existing, unused property. “I’d rather something else,” he said. “I’m o.k. with (storage) if they operate it with safety and security in mind.”

Chanel Godwin looks out onto vacant two-story building each day. Though she said she’d prefer more restaurants in the area, she did not mind storage as a use. “I want more art and less abandoned building,” she said in August.

“It’s never going to be a traditional commercial site, which is why storage makes sense,” Morris elaborated at the hearing. “The view doesn’t permit visibility to the site which is why brining a use to this site has been such a challenge.”

The Raskins’ state-of-the-art facility will not be open 24-hours-a-day, Morris said in December, and will have internal unloading bays and key-code entry. Withey-Morris is also assisting restauranteur Rebecca Golden with zoning adjustments for her proposed “Googie Bistro,” another privately funded project in Melrose, about one block away.

Read about the January Phoenix Planning Commission hearing.