Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tempe Loft Down the Drain? - 4/13/06

Sewage problems could sideline redevelopment on Apache Boulevard.....Old sewer pipes clog condo plans
Apache Blvd. lines worry developers

Katie Nelson
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 7, 2006 12:00 AM

Sewage problems could sideline redevelopment on Apache Boulevard, warn some real estate agents involved in trying to build a 10-story condominium complex there.

Plans for the Tempe Union Station Lofts project stalled in March after a series of setbacks including the sewage issue.

But the live-work condo complex may still happen, according to the real estate agent brokering the deal. It could be the first major revitalization investment to come to the area as a result of light rail.

The developers are still trying to build on three adjacent plots of land containing mobile home parks and other low-income housing, said Diane Minkner, the agent who assembled the land, and the owner of Integrity Fine Properties in Paradise Valley. Architects are in the midst of redrawing their plans with lower buildings, Minkner said.

Yet height issues aside, both sides say for the project to be successful, one of the main hurdles it will have to overcome is sewer capacity. To serve more people than are already there, major changes need to be made to the about 50-year-old sewer lines.

It's an expensive problem the developers say they shouldn't be responsible for. They also say it may spell trouble for not just them, but any developer who wants to invest in the area.

"The developers are already spending millions of dollars. The city should contribute their portion," Minkner said.

"It's a little give and take. After all, we're helping the city clean up Apache Boulevard in a big way. Three trailer parks is a big thing."

City leaders say they, too, have invested a lot. Light rail and waterline upgrades in the area are already costing Tempe millions.

And community members and city officials have spent years planning a transportation overlay district, designed to make Apache Boulevard a safe, pedestrian-friendly place to live and do business.

The city says developers shoulder the burden of items such as needed sewer capacity.

"It's common practice in the utility industry and every city in the Valley," said Don Hawkes, Tempe's water utilities manager. "New development means if they need new infrastructure, it's at their cost."

Hawkes cited The Vale, a modern condo/business complex at University and Hardy Drives, and Arizona State University buildings at Mill Avenue and University Drive as examples of recent developments that have had to pay for new sewer lines.

Sewer capacity has been raised as an issue elsewhere.On Apache Boulevard, the sewer lines are smaller than other commercial areas, Hawkes said.

That's because when the lines were put in, the area was only single-story residential or commercial.

Sewer lines are typically designed to last at least 50 years, according to Hawkes, but can last up to 100 years.

The city's oldest working sewer lines were built in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Thoseinvolved in trying to build the Tempe Union Station Lofts warn the current sewer situation on the boulevard spells trouble.

"The city has got this great plan, but it won't become a reality unless they replace and improve the sewer line for sewer capacity," said Realtor Sara Lucas, who represents the business owners trying to sell their land for the Union Lofts deal.

"If not, it will always be an ongoing problem for every single development deal and all their vision and all their work and all the years are literally down the drain."

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