Housing development, demolition of historic landmark in Flagstaff delayed

Rising materials costs have delayed phase one of a housing development that will demolish the historic home of one of Flagstaff’s founding families.

The five-story, 146-unit affordable housing development proposed by nonprofit Foundation for Senior Living (FSL) was set to break ground at 320 N. Humphreys St. in June, but is now delayed to an undetermined date in mid- to late summer while FSL raises funds. Once funded, the development intends to move forward with the first phase, which will begin with the demolition of the David Babbitt House that has stood on the plot since the early 19th century.

FSL had originally budgeted $18 million for construction costs, said Steve Hastings, chief of real estate services for FSL. An increase in materials costs over the last couple years has forced them to readjust that number to $24 million.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, overall prices of building materials have increased about 36% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The increased prices have been “exacerbated by the uncertainty of when supplies will be available” — an uncertainty brought on by supply chain disruption and industry failure to retain adequate labor.

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The FSL development will be in the delay until it can make up the $6 million difference in projected costs.

“We’re still as committed to the project,” Hastings said. “We don’t want to back off the plan.”

The plan is to develop the entire city block in three phases. The first phase will include clearing the lot and constructing five-story, 70-unit, age-restricted senior living development on the north half of the block. The second phase will include another five-story, 76-unit family-orientated development. The third phase includes finishing a 100-space parking lot “dedicated for City Courthouse and public use.”

Hastings hopes FSL will see increased support from the Arizona Department of Housing.

“If we can get additional funding from the state in June, that would cover enough of the shortfall for us to go forward,” he said.

All the “prep work,” such as the rezoning through the City of Flagstaff, obtaining elevation approvals, and consulting with the Arizona Department of Transportation to ensure noninterference with power lines, has been completed.

“The city staff, city manager, mayor and council have been helpful and gracious,” Hastings said. “We really got a clear shot at this once we can get the additional funding in place.”

FSL was also required by city code to complete a phase 2 cultural resource study on the David Babbitt House currently onsite.

Dating back to 1886, the home is a “contributing component” of Flagstaff’s North End Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The home is architecturally significant as a rare representative of the transition between the Queen Anne style of the late 19th century and the Craftsman style of the early 20th century, and locally significant as the home of David Babbitt, an early industrial leader considered one of the founders of Flagstaff.

The cultural resource study on the David Babbitt House was completed and approved by the Heritage Preservation Commission during a meeting on Jan. 20, 2021. The minutes from this meeting state that FSL made “efforts to save the building” but concluded that “saving the house on this property is not possible.”

The minutes also state that Heritage Preservation Commission was “skeptical of these efforts because the applicant (FSL) hadn’t reached out to the commission about relocation and preservation on site previously.”

Before the commission’s approval, Chairman Hayward stated “the importance of affordable housing to the community is recognized by the chair; otherwise the commission would likely deny this application for a phase 2 approval. However, the commission wants to be a good community partner.”

Affordable housing is a dire need in Flagstaff, where there is currently an “extreme disparity” between incomes and housing costs. The FSL development claims that it will produce “permanently affordable” units to help to address the housing need.

There is a “salvage plan” in place that Hastings said will entail relocating certain assets from the David Babbitt House for permanent preservation, but neither Hastings nor the City of Flagstaff elaborated further.

The delay in development is not likely to produce any further preservation efforts.

FSL “loves preservation,” Hastings said, but preserving the David Babbitt House “doesn’t make sense” for their project.

“What makes sense to us in a community like Flagstaff is Nativity Church,” Hastings said. “If there’s any movement to preserve, I would think Flagstaff would want to move that direction.”

There are currently efforts to preserve Nativity Church, which is directly across the street from the David Babbitt House. Roberta “Birdie” Wallace, who is leading the charge on the church’s restoration, is also one of the community members who has lamented the intended demolition of the David Babbitt House. Wallace has family ties to the home, and is concerned that the height of the FSL development will overshadow Nativity Church, forcing its stained glass windows to go dark.

“I’m really sad that there’s going to be a five-story building next door,” Wallace said.

Other community members have said the demolition plan demonstrates a “lacking” historic preservation code and a failure of developers to consider community values. Historic character is a “silo” that helps drive the tourism, said Meg Roeder, communication specialist for Discover Flagstaff.

Tourism is Flagstaff’s main industry, accounting for $563 million in commerce and over 8,000 jobs.

“I wish we could do more for the historic preservation,” Hastings said. “But maybe there’s something we can do to help with Nativity Church or some other effort.”

At the other end of the current delay, FSL will have to apply for a demolition permit in order to demolish the David Babbitt House and move on with phase one of the development. As of press time, city staff confirmed that FSL has not yet applied for a demolition permit.

Sean Golightly can be reached at sgolightly@azdailysun.com.

SOURCE: https://azdailysun.com/news/local/housing-development-demolition-of-historic-landmark-in-flagstaff-delayed/article_13a92bf8-d55b-11ec-a1a6-db45ca3c344d.html#tracking-source=home-top-story

AUTHOR: Sean Golightly

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