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Old March 29th, 2006, 04:09 PM   #1
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FAA to have more control on Phoenix building...


Airport spurs high-rise limits
Phoenix poised to protect Sky Harbor, set height example for Tempe

Ginger D. Richardson
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 29, 2006 12:00 AM

Phoenix is moving aggressively to protect the economic vitality of Sky Harbor International Airport and will approve new rules today that will block the construction of any new building whose height could pose a threat to its operations.

The action effectively means that the airport's interests are paramount to all of Phoenix's other priorities, including its aggressive efforts to revitalize downtown.

"(This) will clearly show that our past practices and our future practices will put the public safety and the efficiency of Sky Harbor Airport above any economic development in Phoenix," Mayor Phil Gordon said on Tuesday.

Sky Harbor is the nation's fifth-busiest airport, with as many as 41 million passengers flying in and out of its gates each year.

Phoenix estimates that Sky Harbor pumps more than $70 million into the local economy each day.

On Tuesday, city officials made it clear that they would like Tempe, whose western boundaries fall within the airport's surrounding airspace, to follow their lead.

However, it appears unlikely that the East Valley city, which has long had a contentious relationship with Phoenix on airport issues, will choose to do so.

Regardless, the Phoenix City Council is scheduled to vote this afternoon on changes to its construction code that would prevent a building permit from being issued for any property that had been deemed an obstruction to Sky Harbor flights.

The language essentially means that the city by law will have to acquiesce to the Federal Aviation Administration if it determines that a high-rise building or tower is hazardous. One of the first projects that could fall victim to the new rules is a 39-story hotel and condominium project proposed by Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver.

The FAA has already made a preliminary ruling that the $200 million-plus property, located downtown next to the US Airways Center, could be a threat to planes because of its 450-foot height. A final determination is expected in the coming weeks or months.

As a rule, the FAA does not have the authority to stop a project from proceeding even if it is deemed an obstruction.

That decision is ultimately left to the city. But Phoenix has been quick to fight construction of any high-rise not receiving the FAA's blessing because the agency does reserve the right to move in and change emergency flight procedures if the property is built.

It's a complicated process, but the result is clear: The FAA can mandate that planes carry less weight in the form of fuel, cargo and passengers in an effort to guarantee that they can avoid the potential obstruction upon takeoff.

All those changes could have the effect of reducing the capacity and the economic impact of Sky Harbor. And that's one thing Phoenix definitely doesn't want.

"I think it's very, very important for people to understand how important this airport is to our community and to respond accordingly," Phoenix City Councilwoman Peggy Bilsten said on Tuesday.

The issue is what ultimately doomed Tempe's Arizona Cardinals' stadium plans back in 2001. The FAA declared the site a hazard, and the state's Tourism and Sports Authority withdrew it from consideration. It is now being built in Glendale.

That saga marked one of the ugliest chapters in Phoenix and Tempe's relationship. Tempe officials accused Phoenix of trying to thwart economic development in their city under the guise of airport safety, a charge then-Mayor Skip Rimsza denied.

Similar arguments surfaced again last month when the two municipalities once again did battle over Sky Harbor. This time, the fight focused on Tempe's famed Centerpoint Condominium project, which includes one 22-story tower and three 30-story high-rises.

The FAA has signed off on the 22-story building under construction but has not yet made a determination on whether the 30-story towers pose a threat to Sky Harbor because the developer has not yet submitted the additional height for a review.

Phoenix has asked Tempe to guarantee in writing that no building permit be issued for the 30-story towers until the project is properly vetted by the FAA. That has not yet happened, Gordon said.

So in passing the new rules, Phoenix clearly delineates its priorities and puts Tempe in a delicate position. It's underlying message to the East Valley city: Tempe should be willing to take the same hard-line stance, not only with Centerpoint but all other high-rises that are proposed.

But Tempe officials said Tuesday that they do not plan to pass a similar ordinance.

Instead, they reiterated their belief that Phoenix has repeatedly tried to thwart their economic-development efforts under the guise of airport safety.

"We are only looking to be treated fairly and put an end to the double standards," Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman said. "I am delighted Phoenix would address (their) hazard issues with the same level of effort that they put forward for the city of Tempe's."

Under Phoenix's new ordinance, any high-rise building in an area bounded by Indian School Road on the north, Baseline Road on the south, 59th Avenue on the west and Phoenix city limits on the east, would have to meet two criteria before it could be built. It would need a "determination of no hazard" from the FAA, and it would have to be in compliance with Phoenix's height ordinances.

Those rules, which were recently changed, govern how tall towers could be in the area. The new ceiling lowered the height in some areas and raised it in others, but in most places, structures are capped at 40 stories, roughly the height of Chase Tower, downtown's tallest building.

"The bottom line is we can't control anything outside of Phoenix," Aviation Director David Krietor said. "But we can be crystal clear about what we can control."


I guess I'll just have to hope that the cities around Phoenix will take the opportunity to raise their skylines. I've found it kind of funny about the Tempe thing considering the buildings they are raising aren't even in the path of the airport.
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Old March 30th, 2006, 07:51 PM   #2
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Sounds like small town backwards BS. How much room does Sky Harbor have left to expand?
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Old March 31st, 2006, 09:29 PM   #3
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Sounds like they're (FAA) trying to cap off building height in Phoenix just like they've done in San Diego for years. San Diego's cap is 500' but it sounds like Phoenix will be capped at about 450'
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Old April 1st, 2006, 01:41 AM   #4
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Unfortunate for Phoenix
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Old May 4th, 2006, 05:48 PM   #5
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why don't they move the airport ? an airport doesn't need to be in the center of an urban area and the city oh phx could get a big empty space near downtown where they could build a dense neighborhood instead of spreaded communities far away from downtown
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Old May 4th, 2006, 10:51 PM   #6
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^ Because moving the airport will cost multiple billions of dollars and we'd rather use that money to make downtown Phoenix better. The airport is not the problem - it is the mistakes of the past that are the issue.

Look at it this way - there are plenty of world-class cities around the world without super tall skyscrapers in their downtown. Paris, San Diego, Vancouver are but three examples. All of them are far more interesting than Phoenix.

Conversely, Phoenix being able to build 1,000 foot skyscrapers downtown won't help the urban fabric of our downtown get better. In fact, most of downtown Phoenix now is covered by a height limit of 650 feet on the west side and 550 feet along Central Avenue, yet we only have two towers over 400 feet completed. In addition, the north end of downtown Phoenix (called midtown) has no such cap and we just got a pair of 685-foot 50-story proposals up there, so I don't see the point of moving the airport at massive expense.

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Old May 6th, 2006, 09:57 PM   #7
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San Jose cap is like 250 feet above ground level. A 200 foot fall building thats on a small hill is facing tons oppostion from airlines right now. Its really annoying. Pheonix is slightly better, but still the same issue
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