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Historic Butler House in Tempe avoids demolition

Approved facade easement irks neighbors

Posted 5/10/22

The current owner of the historic Butler House in Tempe hoped to bulldoze the building in order to maximize his profits. The City of Tempe Historic Preservation Committee put a stop to that. 

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Look Back

Historic Butler House in Tempe avoids demolition

Approved facade easement irks neighbors

Posted

The current owner of the historic Butler House in Tempe hoped to bulldoze the building in order to maximize his profits. The City of Tempe Historic Preservation Committee put a stop to that. 

Located at 1220 S. Mill Avenue in the historic Maple-Ash-Farmer-Wilson neighborhood, the Butler House was built in 1939 in an upscale part of a growing Tempe. Its current owners, facing a similar housing boom, hoped to build a new property on the site.

The historic preservation committee denied that request, instead proposing during its April 13 meeting a five-year facade easement, allowing for a lot split. That would allow the owner to build another home on the property facing the alley.

The house, sometimes called the Gray Residence, is on the Tempe Historic Register. The 1939 ranch-style home in what used to be called the Park Tract neighborhood falls under the theme of custom housing, reflecting residential development practices in the city’s early, upscale neighborhoods.

Its original owner was Audley Butler, known for his long tenure at the Salt River Project. It retains nearly all of its original features, such as casement windows, wood entry and garage doors, and asbestos roof shingles.

The topic of the easement came before the Tempe City Council on April 28, but not without comments from concerned neighbors. 

Karyn Gitlis, a resident of the Maple-Ash neighborhood, said residents “object strongly” to a facade easement due to what it will allow in the alleys moving forward. 

“I’m not aware of any other place in the neighborhood where this exists,” she told the council. “[The house] will be street numbered on the alley, and will require city services. This will lead to problems and set a precedent.” 

Ryan Levesque, deputy community development director for the city, said having two properties on the same site is actually common for the neighborhood, which dates back to the 1920s, and many have alley access. 

“The city did consider purchasing the property but landed on a facade easement for investment while preserving the home on the front of the lot,” he said. “It meets the code requirements. Most trash is collected on the back of the alley.” 

Levesque noted that approving the easement was just the first step of many. The neighborhood notification process would begin in May, following a neighborhood meeting and then public meeting in June. Finally, a zoning map amendment would be up for discussion in August or September. 

Mayor Corey Woods said he felt comfortable approving the resolution with neighbors having plenty of chances to provide their view on the new property. 

He said Gitlis “raises some very important issues from the residents of Maple-Ash and we want to make sure we’re being sensitive to that. I’m comfortable if, as you said, there are three different opportunities to bring neighbors in and get their input before anything happens here.” 

Councilmember Lauren Kuby, on the other hand, would not support the resolution after the “trauma” residents have been through with development in Tempe in recent years. 

Councilmember Jennifer Adams tentatively supported the easement, but said the neighborhood’s feelings would come first. 

“If we get public input and it’s not favorable, then I will not support it,” she said. 

The resolution passed 6 to 1. Next, hearings will be scheduled for the zoning map amendment. 

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