North Phoenix family working to rebuild after fire run into issue

Permit process complicated by previous owner’s changes
After a fire destroyed their home, a Phoenix couple has run into a big issue while trying to rebuild so the pair called On Your Side.
Updated: May. 31, 2023 at 5:30 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A north Phoenix family lost their home in a fire. Now a permitting issue has kept the rebuild on hold for 18 months. Sean McElroy has a lot of memories of a hot rod that he built himself. “I did everything on that car for five years,” he said. “I did all the electrical, the drive train, the interior.”

But one day 18 months ago, he took it for a quick spin, came back and parked it in the garage. “And 20 minutes later, I heard alarms going off, ran out here and it was on fire,” he said. Unfortunately, the blaze spread quickly and the entire home burned. “It’s killing me,” he said. “And this was going to be our forever home.”

Soon after the fire, McElroy and his wife hired a contractor and were ready to rebuild. But after 18 months, the McElroys still don’t have the City of Phoenix permits needed to finish the work on their home. The sticking point seems to be their backyard wall that previous homeowners put in years ago. The wall encompasses a portion of the city’s easement, a discovery made by city officials when McElroy and his wife applied for rebuilding permits. “The city is not happy about that and are holding us responsible for something someone else did on our property before we even bought it,” he said.

In the original plans for the house from 2001, the backyard area is open desert and sits next to a wash. In 2002, satellite images showed the owner at the time built a block wall to fence in his backyard. But unfortunately, the fence crosses the area that was supposed to be left as an easement alongside a wash.

When the McElroys purchased the home in 2016, they were attracted by the large backyard space, where they eventually put in a pool, a gazebo and even a volleyball court. And remember, it was all put in on the land the previous owner wasn’t supposed to touch. “If we had known that we could not touch the backyard we wouldn’t have bought this house,” McElroy said.

Now, everything is at risk. It’s possible the pool, gazebo and volleyball court may have to be removed if the McElroys want to get permits to rebuild their burned home. “We had a vision and now that’s being stomped on,” he said.

On Your Side got involved and we now have the McElroys, along with Phoenix city officials, engaged in productive talks to hopefully resolve this sticky mess. The McElroys are now preparing for a final city review of their plans.

In an email, a City of Phoenix spokesperson states, “This project is more complicated than an average residential remodel or rebuild. Staff is in contact with the applicant, and we have most of the required documents. Our conversations indicate the applicant is clear with what may still be needed to move forward.”

There’s no clear resolution reached yet, but the good news is both sides seem eager to get this issue behind them. “My kids, one one of them is graduating this year, the other one graduates next year,” McElroy said. “And I wanted them to be here in this house for their senior years, their graduation, all this stuff.”

The good news is everybody seems to be on the same page now, and if everything goes well, the McElroys could save their yard, and finally get their home rebuilt. We’ll check in on them in a few weeks to see how the process is going.

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