The city of Phoenix (COP) filed a lawsuit against the city of Tempe (COT), attempting to restrict residential development in a proposed entertainment district the city is planning to develop near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PSHIA).
“The City of Phoenix, which owns and operates Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, is suing Tempe for breach of contract, asking the court to rescind Tempe’s recent zoning and land use changes and prohibit future residential uses in an area that the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] says is incompatible with residential development,” according to a statement from PSHIA.
The lawsuit surrounds COT’s proposed Tempe Entertainment District (TED), which would be built on 46 acres of land at the crossroads of Rio Salado Parkway and Priest Drive. Planning for the TED began in 2021. The area would be a “mixed-use project” and include a new hockey arena for the Arizona Coyotes, restaurants, shopping facilities, and 1,995 residential units. The Tempe City Council has already approved the project, but city voters must provide final approval before it can move forward.
According to the complaint, the issue at hand is building residences in an area close to PSHIA. In 1994, COP and COT joined in an agreement on noise mitigation flight procedures. Phoenix and Tempe have historically butted heads over the noise created by aircraft departing and landing at the airport and its effects on Tempe neighborhoods. The COT sued Phoenix in the 90s to prevent it from building more runways at the airport, and to settle these disputes; the two entities entered the intergovernmental agreement. Phoenix agreed to work with the FAA to ensure aircraft operated over the Salt River riverbed, which would create less noise for Tempe residents. However, this agreement also restricts how close residences can be to PSHIA to protect them from noise.
The complaint shows that, as planned, the TED would fall within a “65 DNL” area. DNL stands for Day-Night Average Sound Level, which would reach 65 decibels in the area. The TED would be located roughly 9,800 feet from the PSHIA’s south runway and under several of the airport’s flight paths. Phoenix allegedly alerted Tempe of concerns surrounding residential units being built in this area multiple times, but the council approved the proposal regardless.
Therefore, the plaintiffs argue that Tempe has broken its end of the 1994 agreement by approving the project. For relief, Phoenix asked that Maricopa County Superior Court to declare that Tempe violated the agreement and require it to amend its proposal to exclude residential units from the 65 DNL area.
However, the city emphasized that it only takes issue with the residences, not the other proposals for the TED.
“The Phoenix Aviation Department does not object to a sports arena, restaurants, shops, and other compatible uses related to the proposed Tempe Entertainment District,” said Phoenix Director of Aviation Services Chad Makovsky.
This lawsuit comes just weeks before Tempe residents vote on whether they approve of the TED project. On May 16th, the city will hold a special election to vote on Propositions 301, 302, and 303, which will either uphold or reject the city’s proposals.
A spokesperson for COT told The Arizona Sun Times that Phoenix’s lawsuit would not impact this election.
Fox 10 reported that the project is already controversial among Tempe residents, as some are concerned with the project’s the multi-million dollar price tag and adverse environmental effects the project could have. However, Tempe Wins, a group in favor of the project, says it will bring massive revenue and more jobs to the community.
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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Tempe Entertainment District” by tempe.gov.