Once again, Mesa's Fiesta Village owners face sanctions - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Money

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Once again, Mesa's Fiesta Village owners face sanctions

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Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2012 5:30 am

It’s déjà vu all over in the long-standing conflict between Mesa and the owner of the long-vacant Fiesta Village shopping center.

The city has again warned the W.M. Grace Development Co. that the fenced-off, deteriorating property is violating its codes – just a month before Grace faces a civil hearing over a different violation.

Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh represents the southwestern Mesa area near the center and has become increasingly frustrated with property’s appearance and the time it takes to address problems.

The latest violation is for a deteriorating building. Both sides have sparred over other structures, landscaping, weeds and litter that even included an abandoned boat.

“I guess it’s our version of ‘The Neverending Story,’ ” Kavanaugh said. “It’s like one of those historical novels that never ends: War and Peace, Mesa-style.”

The city issued a warning in early March for a deteriorating building on the north side of the 17-acre property, which is at the northwest corner of Alma School Road and Southern Avenue. The problem was noticed when a code officer was inspecting the former Bobby McGee’s building, which Grace was cited for because of peeling paint, along with missing shingles and siding.

A civil hearing over Bobby McGee’s is scheduled for April 25. Grace has denied responsibility but recently indicated it may make repairs, said Christine Zielonka, Mesa’s development and sustainability director.

Phoenix-based Grace did not respond to a request for comment.

The 1970s shopping center has been in decline for years as the surrounding Fiesta District struggled with changing demographics, the 2007 opening of Mesa Riverview and then the Great Recession. Fiesta Village was encircled with a chain link fence after the last retailer left in 2007.

Grace executives told Mesa in 2009 they had spoken to several potential buyers, Kavanaugh said. The company has more recently planned to renovate the center and begin leasing storefronts, Kavanaugh said.

Mesa insists it will never come back to life as a retail center, noting several nearby centers are entirely or largely vacant. The city has encouraged Grace to consider a mix of office, residential and limited retail.

Kavanaugh said the center is aging rapidly and that residents keep asking the city to take action. He has suggested monthly property inspections with the city and Grace executives to share Mesa’s concerns over code violations. He’s also suggested Grace sell the property if it’s not interested in redeveloping it, with marketing assistance from the city.

Kavanaugh wrote a letter to Grace executives saying he’d host any number of public venues for the company to share their plans with residents, but said he got no response. Last month, he posted his letter on the city website and his Facebook page. He got some criticism for pushing Grace too hard, but received support from others.

A Grace executive lambasted Kavanaugh a “media glory hound” last year for his outspokenness.

Kavanaugh said he’s not trying to antagonize the company.

“I didn’t turn the residents against them,” he said. “That’s all a self-inflicted wound. What I’m doing is I’m voicing the concerns of residents in the community.”

The latest warning could result in a citation, which the city typically issues if an issue isn’t resolved in about a month. In this case, Zielonka said the city will wait until the April civil hearing to act on the other matter. A citation can lead to a $2,500 fine.

Fiesta Village is one of the rare Mesa properties where warnings go unresolved and lead to citations or civil hearings. Zielonka said only about 2 percent of last year’s 7,000 warnings ended up as citations.

Grace has been especially good with removing graffiti, Zielonka said. The city is less pleased with landscaping.

“It’s pretty unsightly at this point,” she said. “They certainly could do a better job keeping the property cleaned up.”

Kavanaugh, an attorney, said Grace has recently been represented by a planning and zoning lawyer who is well respected.

“If they listen to their attorney, I think there’s a reasonable prospect that the appearance of the property will at least be maintained more consistently,” Kavanaugh said.

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