Tempe's Development Review Commission waved through the Monti's La Casa Vieja high rises during a marathon meeting Tuesday night, leaving the City Council as the last remaining hurdle for the controversial project.
The developer agreed to chop five feet off one of the buildings, putting the structures at 320 and 300 feet tall, and won approval without making any other concessions.
Even so, developer Tony Wall's intentions to place two high rises on the site of one of the Valley's oldest adobe buildings have garnered attention. The Monti's steak restaurant - itself a long-time local favorite - sits inside the Hayden house, which was built by Tempe's Anglo founder, Charles Trumbull Hayden.Initially, Phoenix Sky Harbor and US Airways officials complained about the proposed high rise height. They said it would conflict with existing "one-engine inoperative" emergency take-off procedures and changes to those emergency plans would be detrimental because higher buildings would mean airplanes would have to take off at steeper angles, requiring lighter loads in the form of passengers or cargo.
More recently, the project was sent back to the drawing board by Tempe's Historic Preservation Commission. The group demanded changes because they were displeased with how the first design covered up much of the Hayden House. The development team returned with a new version that put the high rise just south of what will remain of the Monti's building, earning the preservation commission's blessing.
At Tuesday's meeting, the arguments over if and how the "One Hundred Mill Avenue" project should be built remained feisty. Half a dozen residents aired their thoughts, while the commission peppered city staff and the development team's attorney, Paul Gilbert, with questions.
US Airways, whose world headquarters is next door to the site, was among the complainers. The airline has dropped the one-engine inoperative argument, but still has concerns according to lobbyist John MacDonald. He told the commission that airline leaders believe the density, height and overall scale of the development is presumptuous and out of proportion.
"It is massive and will completely dominate other structures, manmade or otherwise, in that neighborhood," he said.
He also pointed out that the development plan includes using private drives owned by US Airways, even though the developer doesn't have permission to do so.
During past hearings, the Monti's development team has trotted out former Tempe Mayor Rudy Campbell, historian Marshall Trimble and Hayden descendent Carl Hayden as proponents of the project. This time, the special appearance came in the form of a letter from former ASU football coach and long-time Tempe resident Frank Kush, complete with lots of football analogies.
"I think the whole proposal is a touchdown . . . " Kush wrote.
Ultimately, the Development Review Commission agreed, voting 5 to1 to give their formal support.
The project will go to the City Council in the coming months, where the city staff will likely continue to argue that the height should come down.
City planners believe the Monti's high rise adjacent to Mill Avenue should be no higher than 225 feet so it follows the "pace" and "precedent" set by other buildings already on Mill Avenue, according to Chris Anaradian, development services manager.