Some Phoenix council members balk at wearing two hats

Proposal requires City Council members to also become members of the city's Urban Renewal Board

The Phoenix City Council appears divided over a suggestion that council members also become members of the city's Urban Renewal Board.

With a combined meeting between the two agencies slated for March 11, Mayor Jeff Bellah on Tuesday sought informal consensus from council members over the possible combining of the Urban Renewal Board with the council.

If the two were combined, the existing board would be expanded to include the mayor and all six council members.

In the discussion of the idea, council members Terry Helfrich and Karen Jones favored keeping the groups separate, while four others — Bruce Sophie, Carolyn and Stan Bartell and Chris Luz — leaned towards the combined model.

Jones, who said council members alone attended some 46 meetings last year, voiced frustration with the council attempting control of the urban renewal agency via a "hostile merger."

Helfrich said he felt that current URB members were highly qualified and that improved communication could occur without combining the two groups.

The four leaning toward the combined model voiced favor for having both groups meet, Luz said, "at the same table."

Bellah said a handful of combined meetings with council and urban renewal members would offer clarity as to the best solution.

The issue that prompted concerns from council members about lack of communication between urban renewal and the council — demolition of the Steadman House — was originally included on Tuesday's agenda but was removed before the meeting.

Urban Renewal Agency board members last year had recommended the city take possession of the historic house at Pine and Second streets and relocate it next to city offices on a vacant lot facing Main Street. The owners of the house, which was built in the late 1800s, want it to be demolished or removed from the property.

But in a split vote, ultimately decided by Bellah, the council rejected the project but left discussions open to further negotiation.

City Manager Steve Dahl said the issue was added to the meeting agenda Tuesday in error because city officials were unclear whether the council's willingness to review the project at a later time had effectively put demolition on hold. But Dahl said city officials determined that the demolition had essentially been approved.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com


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