The little rundown building at 11th and Main streets — site of an early Florence butcher shop, the town’s first telephone office, a prominent attorney’s office and the only intact Sonoran row house left on Main Street — appears headed for the history books.
The town, which agreed to take ownership of it in October, has been unable to collect enough donations to make a worthwhile effort to save it, the Town Council was told Monday night.
The council voted 5-0 to recommend to the town’s Historic District Advisory Commission (HDAC) that the building be razed. Mayor Tom Rankin and Tara Walter were absent.
Once the 130-year-old adobe is gone, the town plans to spend a few thousand dollars to landscape and beautify the space, town officials have said. The building, known historically as “The Francisco Cuen House and Butcher Shop,” occupies just under 1,000 square feet.
Community Development Director Mark Eckhoff told the council Monday the town was hoping to collect contributions of $30,000, $40,000 or more, but had only secured a commitment of $2,000 from the Florence Industrial Development Authority (IDA). If stabilization is to proceed, the “funds would substantially come out of the town budget,” Eckhoff told the council.
The preservation architect that worked on the 1891 Pinal County Courthouse has said it would take $91,000 to stabilize the building and $177,000 to fully rehabilitate it.
If the HDAC disagrees with the council’s decision to raze the building, their decision can come back to the council to be appealed, Eckhoff said.
Vice Mayor Tom Smith said the Cuen House issue is another example of the town making a decision that should have gone first to the appropriate board or commission. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re going around them again.”
Council member Tom Celaya disagreed, and said it’s a case of the town as the building owner going to the HDAC with a recommendation and asking for feedback.
Town Manager Charles Montoya said it wasn’t the town’s intent to go around the HDAC, but to raise the funds to save the building.
Eckhoff said if the HDAC agrees with the council’s recommendation, the issue won’t return to the council for further action and the building will be demolished.
The council held a required public hearing for its application for Community Development Block Grant regional account and State Special Project (SSP) funds. The town is eligible to apply for $224,015 from the regional account and compete for up to $300,000 in SSP funds.
Town staff recommends the money be used for owner-occupied housing rehabilitation, Florence Special Districts Manager Ernie Feliz told the council. He said 14 homeowners have applied for this assistance and it is estimated it will cost an average of $50,000 to repair each home. The town can repair four homes if it wins the first grant, and an additional five if it wins the second grant. Homes not repaired in this round of funding will go on a waiting list, Feliz said.
Margaret Valdez told the council that she has a friend who has been trying to get her home fixed for seven years and asked how long the process will take.
Feliz said the town will submit its application toward the end of May and receive a grant announcement in the fall. Following a contract process of two to three months, work on the houses could begin around the first of next year.
Of the 14 homeowners who have applied, eight have qualified and the town is trying to qualify the others, Feliz said. The program is first-come first-served, and homeowners are placed on the waiting list according to the date they submitted their application.
The council approved the grant application.
********Fire station equipment
After some discussion, the council approved $33,109 in fitness equipment for the new Anthem fire station. Celaya asked if anyone had talked to Pulte Homes to ask if their equipment could be used.
Fire Chief Peter Zick said firefighters exercise at Pulte’s facility now, which limits the time they can work out and delays their emergency response time.
Council member BIll Hawkins asked if firefighters could work out on their own time.
“Often they do,” Zick said.
“I realize firemen need to be in great shape, but we’ve spent a lot of money on them in the last year and a half and it keeps going and going,” Hawkins said.
Montoya said firefighters work three complete 24-hour days per shift and they need the equipment. Zick said the equipment the town wants to buy is “pretty standard” for Valley fire stations. He said firefighters are going to be required to be tested yearly on their physical fitness, and some places require them to stay in shape to keep their job.
Smith asked what equipment the downtown fire station has. Montoya replied that much of it is old, donated by the firefighters themselves or people in the community. The town has already discarded some of it that was deemed hazardous.
The council unanimously approved the purchase. Hawkins commented toward the end of Monday’s meeting that he’s “just trying to be fiscally conservative.
“... We’re spending a lot of money and I want to make sure it’s money well spent.”
The council also approved an ordinance designed to streamline and speed up applications through the town’s Community Development department. Montoya said items that the department can now handle administratively will still be reported to the council in the department’s monthly report.
The council heard readings on this ordinance in early December and early January.
Hawkins said, “I’m for streamlining it if it works,” but there were still a couple of instances of town staff delaying businesses trying to get started here “over minor stuff.” He suggested the council provide more information to applicants in the form of a booklet to explain their options.
In other business, the council approved:
• Construction of a new 1 million gallon water storage tank, booster station and site improvements in North Florence. The project was originally estimated at $1.4 million in the town’s Capital Improvement Plan, but may be closer to $2.6 million today.
• A donation of $4,000 from the Florence IDA for Saturday’s Historic Tour.
• Special event liquor licenses for Caliente Casa de Sol for various events in February and March.