Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tucson City Council Rejects Downtown Rezoning Extension Over Fears of Future Student Housing

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 3:30 PM

The Tucson City Council voted unanimously last night against extending a rezoning agreement for a key downtown parcel.

The property in question, at Stone Avenue and Franklin Street, sits on the edge of the historic El Presidio Neighborhood and is smack-dab in the midst of the developing Warehouse Arts District.

A string of speakers, mostly made up of downtown residents and business owners, spoke against the extension of the rezoning.

Town West, which has done some good developments around town (such as its current work rehabbing a deserted apartment complex on Fort Lowell Road east of Campbell Avenue), got the original rezoning on the property in 2007.

The plan at that time was to build a hotel, brewery, retail space, artist studios, condo units, parking garages and such in a complex that would include towers as high as 15 floors.

But with the economic slowdown, that project—which had the support of some of the neighbors—has stalled.

Town West officials had recently approached council members and neighboring property owners with the idea of doing a student-housing complex instead.

Town West was not seeking approval for student housing last night; instead, the company simply wanted an extension of the current rezoning allowing for the earlier plans.

In most cases, these kinds of extensions are granted because council members are generally sympathetic to the challenges that developers have faced during the economic downturn.

But in this case, Ward 1 Councilwoman Regina Romero said she was skeptical that the original plan would ever be completed.

“What we have in front of us tonight will not happen,” Romero said as she made the motion to reject the extension of the rezoning plan.

Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik said he had seen recent proposals from Town West for a student-housing complex on the site, which he called “not at all consistent with the master plan” for the area.

Kozachik said he wanted to see a viable plan for the property that “fits in contextually with what’s being developed” in the Warehouse Arts District.

The concern over student housing comes as neighbors near the new District on Fifth apartments, near Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street, are having conflicts with the noise and traffic generated by the more than 700 students who have moved into the massive complex.

New student-housing complexes are already in the works on the east end of downtown near the Fourth Avenue underpass.

After the meeting, Ward 2 Councilman Paul Cunningham said he wasn’t opposed to student housing downtown, but thought the Stone and Franklin corner was the wrong area, given its distance from the streetcar line and proximity to the El Presidio Neighborhood.

The property will now revert to its original zoning, which allows intensive commercial and heavy industrial use.

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