A developer who planned to tear down a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Phoenix has abandoned demolition plans in the face of staunch opposition from preservationists, but the fight is far from over.
As the Phoenix City Council prepares to vote for giving the David and Gladys Wright House landmark status, Steve Sells, co-owner of development company 8081 Meridian, which bought the home, said that he let his demolition permit expire.
"We have no intention of pursuing an extension of or acting on our current demolition permit," Sells told The Arizona Republic.
The company's plan to raze the home ignited a feud with the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in June. The conservancy launched a petition to save the home and pleaded with the local government to grant it landmark status to stop demolition.
Now, with Meridian allowing its demolition permit to lapse, it looks as though the Wright home is on a clear path to gaining historic-landmark status. But there's more to the story.
Sells said that Meridian plans to sue the city of Phoenix, claiming that, as the owner, the company had the right to be notified of plans to designate it a landmark. Sells said the city went ahead with those plans without notifying or consulting with Meridian.
The city said that, according to law, it is not obliged to consult with the owners of properties being considered for landmark status.
Dwight Amery, Phoenix's planning commissioner, argued that, even though he understood Meridian's frustration, the company would have pulled out of the sale of the home if they were aware of landmark discussions.
"I feel for the owners," Amery told the Republic. "They were blindsided. The city started the process, but nobody told them. It's like trying to close the stable door after the horse has gotten out."
Even if the city does approve landmark status for the Wright home -- which appears very likely -- it won't prevent the house from eventually being torn down.
Under Phoenix law, landmark status protects properties from development for only three years – and Sells has a plan to work around that.
"I'll move in, invite everybody to come in and take their pictures, and I'm going to wait three years," Sells told The New York Times. "Then I'm going to knock it down to recoup my losses."
One famous homeowner who was informed about his properties' road to landmark status didn't hesitate to proceed with demolition plans. When "Friends" actor David Schwimmer found out that his New York City townhouse was being considered as a historic landmark, he knocked it down before anyone could prevent him. In another case, hedge fund honcho David Tepper tore down his $43.5 million Long Island mansion to build an even bigger one.
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