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Phoenix suing Tempe over Arizona Coyotes complex

After making objections to Tempe's proposed entertainment district, the City of Phoenix has now filed a legal complaint against the neighboring city.

TEMPE, Ariz. — The City of Phoenix is taking legal action against a proposed entertainment district the City of Tempe is planning to serve as a new home for the Arizona Coyotes.

The Tempe Entertainment District is a proposed $2.1 billion complex that's been in the works for the last few years. The development would include a 16,000-seat arena and team practice facility for the NHL team, as well as hotels, retail stores, and apartments.

Phoenix officials have objected to the large project due to its proximity to a flight path for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. According to Phoenix, the entertainment district would only be about 9,800 feet from the airport’s south runway.

The two cities reached an agreement in 1994, where each municipality made concessions to help mitigate noise from the airport.

On Tuesday, Phoenix officials announced they were taking legal action hoping that a judge would determine that Tempe violated its previous agreements with Phoenix.

"Phoenix has tried numerous times over the past year to resolve disagreements with Tempe and attempt to find a path forward, avoiding litigation. Phoenix knows from experience that quality of life is diminished when residents are exposed to excessive aircraft noise," Phoenix officials wrote in a statement.

Phoenix officials state they don't object to most aspects of the entertainment district and are primarily concerned about the residential portion of the project.

"To the extent either the TED Developer removes those residences or Tempe rejects them, the TED would not violate the Agreement and Phoenix would not object to the TED, including its restaurants, shops, and sports arena," the legal complaint states.

Phoenix's complaint wants a judge to order Tempe to rescind any zoning or land-use changes the city's made in relation to the entertainment district.

When asked for comment, the City of Tempe said, "the city will not have a reaction this evening and typically does not discuss litigation."

Former Tempe mayor and a development supporter, Hugh Hallman, said the lawsuit Phoenix filed isn't about noise from the airport but about Phoenix wanting to expand Sky Harbor. 

"This is about the City of Phoenix trying to leverage and extort from the City of Tempe agreements to allow Sky Harbor to expand with no constraints, with no protections for Tempe residents from noise. Phoenix residents ought to be equally concerned," Hallman said.

In letters written to the City of Phoenix by Tempe officials, Tempe argues that multi-family housing is allowed in the area where the proposed development would go. 

David Williams, an attorney with Davis Miles McGuire Gardner law firm, said the suit is an overreach by the City of Phoenix. 

"The judge is going to look at the original contract. The judge is also going to look at how things changed in the last 30 years," Williams said. 

Logan Elia, a litigator with Rose Law Group, said he doesn't believe the previous agreements can be enforced. 

"I think when the cities make agreements with each other, they should attempt to follow through in good faith. But I don't think that those agreements are enforceable as a matter of law," Elia said. "And if situations change, then new plans need to be considered."

Tempe residents are scheduled to vote on the proposed entertainment district in May, and neither attorney believes the lawsuit would delay that vote. 

"The City of Tempe voters still get a chance, I think, to vote on the issue. The question then is: Will a judge ultimately say, even if the Tempe voters approve it, does the city of Tempe have the legal right to build and allow development in that area?" Williams said. 

The full complaint can be read below:

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