Can't Get Out of Dodge

Longtime residents feel slighted by the city in a dispute over the value of their home.

When they built their large home near the corner of Fifth Street and Dodge Boulevard in 1965, Dorothy and William Deeming thought they were planning ahead. They just didn't anticipate what would happen 35 years later.

As a dentist, William Deeming had the home designed in two parts: one as a residence, the other for his practice. At first his sons occupied that portion of the home, but in 1969 Deeming opened his office in the space and still sees patients there today.

Now 80 but spry, Deeming and his 76-year-old invalid wife live in a neatly kept home that has colorful potted plants blooming in an interior courtyard. As he leads a visitor on a tour, Deeming says, "Dorothy requires constant help, and fortunately having my practice here in our home allows me to do that."

Two years ago, when the Tucson City Council approved an agreement to allow big-box development at the nearby El Con Mall, the Deemings' future was involved. Since there wasn't room to take measures in front of the three single-family homes along Dodge Boulevard south of Fifth Street to mitigate the increased traffic on the street, the city decided to offer to buy the properties for later resale.

Following appraisals, the city acquired the residence to the north of the Deemings' house for $175,000 and the 6,000-square-foot rambling home to the south for $500,000. But the appraisal of the Deemings' 3,500-square-foot home was $250,000, a figure they believed was too low.

Not only did they consider the appraisal unequal to the others, Deeming insists the city never even formally offered to buy his house. "Hector Martinez [real estate administrator for the City of Tucson] handed me the appraisal, but at no time did he say 'This is an offer' or put that in writing," the dentist claims.

Martinez disputes that. "A verbal offer was made," he says. "In this type of arms-length negotiations, you typically don't put something in writing until a deal is struck. So there was no reason to put the offer in writing since we knew it wasn't going anywhere."

Concerning the city's appraisal of the house compared to the one to the south, Martinez says, "They are two different products as homes, each requiring their own comparables. The Deeming home was very challenging as a home/office, which is really unique."

In addition to being dissatisfied with the appraisal, the Deemings wished to remain in the house under the terms of a life estate. As the dentist explains, "If I gave up this office, I could no longer practice dentistry and it would be the death of my professional life ... the income from my practice is very important to Dorothy and me. It [moving] would also require getting a full-time nurse for Dorothy."

Deeming eventually had an appraisal prepared that concluded the property was worth $320,000. Although a copy of this report was never provided to the city, last May a $375,000 offer to sell was submitted by an attorney representing the Deemings.

But by that time city officials had concluded they were no longer interested in the property. In a January 2002 letter that Deeming received from his midtown council representative, Fred Ronstadt wrote, "the authority to acquire [the home] still exists. However, it is also the opinion of staff that the spirit of the direction given by Mayor and Council [concerning the three homes] has been met and that as a result of the failed negotiations and completion of the [Dodge Boulevard] project, the City is not obligated to purchase your property."

Now stuck in the middle, William Deeming says, "I still would like to sell because the city has damaged my property. I think $320,000 is a very fair price if we can stay in the home."

On top of the increase in traffic on Dodge Boulevard, Deeming points to the pending sale by the city of a large house next door to La Frontera behavioral health center as having a negative impact on his property's value. The agency plans to use the home for 10 adults with mental illness and staff it with at least two people, 24 hours a day.

"Their moving in next door doesn't matter to us, but somebody else might not like it," says Dorothy Deeming.

"La Frontera buying that house doesn't bother me," her husband adds, "but it will impact the sales price of my property."

Daniel Ranieri, executive director of La Frontera, doesn't necessarily agree. "I don't know if it will affect his property value," Ranieri says. "It is hard to answer that question. We keep our properties up well and we don't advertise we're in a location. I imagine [our being there] probably wouldn't affect his property value."

But before the $460,000 deal to sell the long-vacant home to La Frontera can be closed, the agency needs to receive land use variances from the city's Board of Adjustment.

In the meantime, William Deeming and his wife continue to wait and wonder what will become of them. In an October letter sent to Mayor Bob Walkup, Deeming wrote, "I feel abandoned, not knowing why you did what you did with these three properties, ignored me in the negotiations, and what the City plans to do with my property." Recently, the elderly dentist, pointing to the house next door, added, "The city has treated these properties unequally. I surely would like to negotiate with them, but they just backed off."