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  mesa rulers will use every trick in the book to chase people they think are undersirable out of town.

Original Article

Halfway house owner claims plot
By Brian Powell, Tribune
December 12, 2005

Mesa has levied criminal charges against the owner of a downtown halfway house for alleged building and fire code violations, which John Schwary says is an underhanded attempt at driving him out.

Schwary disputes all 11 violations issued last month for conditions at the building operated as the Transitional Living Communities, a live-in recovery program for alcoholics and drug addicts. Schwary said he will fight the citys prosecution starting with a court appearance Friday.

He said he believes the timing of the violations about six weeks after the opening of the Mesa Arts Center is no coincidence and is in response to a perception that his program has stymied downtown development.

"They want to have us walk away," said Schwary, 66. "I try not to take things personally, but the part of this thing that gets me is I believe Im doing something for the community that is worthwhile."

City officials say the charges have nothing to do with Schwarys business, and are not an attempt to drive him away or take control of the property. Officials say theyve worked with Schwary to eliminate unsafe living conditions and fire hazards, but he does not have an occupancy permit for residents living in converted offices at 20 S. Macdonald and has not followed through with a plan to correct that problem.

Building safety director Terry Williams said the city has given Schwary extension after extension to submit new plans.

"We finally said Its been two years, enough is enough, and weve got to do something else to get this corrected, " Williams said.

A legal battle with Mesa is nothing new for Schwary, who claimed in federal court the city violated the federal Fair Housing Act by regulating group living arrangements for recovering alcoholics and substance abusers. A settlement was reached in 2003 when Mesa paid Schwary $40,000 in legal fees and TLC was allowed to continue operating.

Schwary, a recovering addict himself, said the roughly 100-year-old building known as "Mac House" has had the same use since 1993, and his other Mesa sites have not been targeted. TLC owns 36,000 square feet on Macdonald, including apartments, a corporate office and the historic Alhambra Hotel across the street, which Schwary rents to released sex offenders. The company also leases space to operate the Inconvenience Store, a small market open to the public.

Schwary said about 40 percent of the residents have had some contact with the justice system, whether jail or probation. Residents pay a "service fee" of $100 a week, which covers a place to sleep and three meals a day.

Two residents typically share one room with a bathroom, comparable in size to a college dorm room, attend a daily 12-step program and submit to drug tests on demand. Residents are required to work unless they are physically unable to do so.

The TLC program itself does not accept sex offenders or arsonists and any offender living at the Alhambra Hotel is not part of the program. The hotel is not involved in these violations.

Schwary said hes considering selling his property, including the hotel, which he values at $3 million. But he wants to do so on his terms, which include finding another location for TLC services.

Today, about 100 people live at Mac House, with about 225 beds available at other Mesa locations, Schwary said. TLC has about 475 beds in Arizona, including sites in Phoenix.

Mesa prosecutor John Pombier said he plans to speak with Schwarys attorney before Fridays court date to discuss the violations. Pombier said no settlement offers have been made.

Earlier this year, city officials were criticized by Councilwoman Janie Thom and a handful of residents living near Country Club Drive and Eighth Avenue who accused the city of filing code compliance charges against Luz Martinez, and then agreeing to a plan to dismiss Martinezs criminal charges if he sold his property to the city. Pombier denied there was any connection between the charges and Martinezs decision to sell to Mesa.

Contact Brian Powell by email, or phone (480) 898-6514