City of Phoenix suing Tempe for development that includes Coyotes arena

Mar 28, 2023, 5:46 PM | Updated: 6:58 pm

Arizona Coyotes Tempe arena...

A rendering of the Arizona Coyotes' proposed Tempe arena revealed June 2 after a 5-2 Tempe City Council vote to continue negotiations on the plans. (Courtesy Arizona Coyotes)

(Courtesy Arizona Coyotes)

The City of Phoenix announced on Tuesday that its aviation department is filing legal action against the city of Tempe for the planned residential development that is a part of the new entertainment district with the new arena for the Arizona Coyotes.

The formal complaint in Maricopa County Superior Court has Phoenix, the owners and operators of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, suing Tempe for a 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 says is incompatible with residential development.”

The Coyotes are not mentioned in the lawsuit or statement.

“The Phoenix Aviation Department does not object to a sports arena, restaurants, shops, and other compatible uses related to the proposed Tempe Entertainment District,” Phoenix director of aviation services Chad Makovsky said in a press release. “Today’s action is about ensuring Tempe lives up to its commitments to protecting our state’s largest economic engine – Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the more than 57,000 employees and 44 million annual travelers who depend on the Airport, and the communities surrounding the Airport who depend on the long-standing agreement between our two cities.”

Tempe Wins, the organization that supports the development, offered the following statement to KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“The complaint filed by the Phoenix Aviation Department represents new heights of hypocrisy,” the statement said. “While it is OK for Phoenix to build a baseball stadium, a basketball arena and a soccer stadium in the flight path of Sky Harbor Airport, somehow, it’s wrong when Tempe attempts to convert an old polluting landfill into a new sports and entertainment district. And there is no shortage of new residential development in and around Downtown Phoenix sports venues. Nor is there a shortage of residential units around the airport in Phoenix.

“Is this really about Phoenix protecting a handful of apartment units in Tempe or is it really a matter of Phoenix protecting the interests of its downtown sports franchises at the expense of Tempe taxpayers who stand to gain many millions of dollars in revenues and benefits. Unlike other stadium deals and developments in other cities including Phoenix, the Tempe proposal costs taxpayers nothing. Indeed, it results in hundreds of millions of dollars in net positive benefits for taxpayers.

“The ultimate question for Tempe voters is this: Do you stand with Phoenix hypocrisy or an incredible environmental and economic opportunity for Tempe?”

The legal action comes over a 1.2 square-mile area that is exposed to noise levels of a high degree from the nearby airport, and both cities agreed to keep planes away from homes in one of the airport’s flight paths due to safety and noise, which Phoenix says is an agreement Tempe breaks with the plan to put residential units in the path.

Phoenix’s statement includes that it “has tried numerous times over the past year to resolve disagreements with Tempe and attempt to find a path forward, avoiding litigation.”

Some of those discussions back in a November update went over “consultation on crane heights and mitigations should any crane create performance issues for our airlines, full indemnification against litigation over noise and vibrations caused by aircraft, noise mitigation and insulation, noise disclosures, avigation easements, wildlife studies, traffic mitigation studies and funding, glare/reflectivity mitigation, good neighbor agreement, and restrictions on events that may impact the operation of Sky Harbor.”

Earlier in 2022, before the Tempe City Council approved sending the Coyotes arena plan to a public vote in May, the aviation department sent mailers to Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale residents around the east flight path over the Salt River, pushing against the planned Tempe project. Then, Phoenix officials worried Sky Harbor would be forced to change flight paths, creating backups and more safety and noise issues, if the entertainment district was to be built as planned.

Those involved on the Coyotes side thought this disagreement between the two cities had been settled.

“The bottom line is the airport actually came out publicly and said that they were standing down from any opposition,” Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said on Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo March 2 regarding the December change of heart from Sky Harbor. “So that is a public statement, they’ve made it and it really stems from the fact that the inter-governmental agreement Phoenix and Tempe does allow this. The challenge there really had nothing to do with this project. It really was about the expansion of the airport, truth be told.

“There is absolutely a need to expand the airport. We would be very much in favor of that and I think that Phoenix and Sky Harbor were looking to utilize this as an opportunity to bring the City of Tempe to the table, to have that conversation and that negotiation. The airport has absolutely been very clear that they will no longer pursue any opposition and we are moving forward.”

The public vote for the approval of the entertainment district comes on May 16.

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