Regarding Dan Huff's "Walkout On Walkup" (January 27): Three cheers for three councilmen with courage, honor and decency! Vice Mayor Leal and Councilmen Anderson and Ibarra stopped a "railroad job."
Mayor Bob Walkup and the El Con Mall owners tried to force through the City Council a back-room development deal hugely advantageous to the mall owners. It lacked controls on hours of operation, controls on decibels, was detrimental to neighborhoods, and contained essentially no neighborhood input.
The placement of ugly superstore warehouses at El Con is unintelligent, poor economics and inappropriate. Those warehouses belong in an industrial or warehouse zone, or beside a freeway that can handle the onslaught of the multiple thousands of cars that visit them daily.
El Con, surrounded by historic neighborhoods and a park, is the wrong place for big boxes. The warehouse traffic would clog Broadway.
Forward thinkers in California and elsewhere are converting dying malls to multiuse or "life-style malls" containing well-designed business offices and apartments in a parklike setting. Sidewalks, small shops, galleries, restaurants, and perhaps an anchor store allow people to live, work, shop and play at the same location. At El Con, Randolph Park would provide tennis, golf, jogging, etc. The university is 10 minutes away, the Community Center and cultural events are also near. A perfect location for those high-tech professionals Mayor Walkup fervently hopes to attract to Tucson.
It sickens the constituents of Councilman Fred Ronstadt that he continues to work toward destroying peaceful, crime-free, historic central Tucson -- his ward. Doesn't he comprehend the fact that we have memories and vote? Pandering to greed and deciding public policy as payback for campaign contributions is wrong, dumb and politically shortsighted. It can lead to recall elections. What an embarrassing, ugly sore the "Walkup Warehouse District" would be at El Con. What a missed opportunity to enhance Tucson.
-- Ila Rupley
To the Editor,
Regarding Dan Huff's "Walkout On Walkup" (January 27): We came to the council meeting on January 24, just as we had four months ago, to ask the mayor and council to "Protect established residential neighborhoods by supporting compatible development."
These words are not the words of a "vocal minority." We represent every neighborhood around El Con Mall. We represent dozens of neighborhood associations and thousands of individuals throughout the city.
In fact, these words are the words of the city as a whole. The Comprehensive Plan of the City of Tucson begins with a statement of its Number One Land Use Policy: "Protect established residential neighborhoods by supporting compatible development."
At the council meeting a vote was scheduled on what was supposed to be a compromise agreement between the mall and all the neighborhoods around it.
In fact, it was developed without the participation of the neighborhoods. None of us even got to see it -- until three days before the meeting.
We are told that this "compromise" is a return to the "mitigation agreement" passed by the city last June. (It's not. It gives the mall many additional legal privileges.) But that June agreement had a fatal flaw. During those discussions we were not permitted to know or talk about what kinds of stores might be in the mall.
That seemed completely backwards to us. You could never expect someone to make a deal on a car first and then take a look at the car.
In our case, we felt that if the mall wanted to change from stores like JCPenney to 24-hour superstores, neighbors should find out before it was a done deal. There should be a forum to show the City Council what effects that would have on the community. And the City Council should have some way to protect us.
To that end a lot of us joined together as T.U.C.S.O.N., The Union of Citizens to Save our Neighborhoods, and began the long and difficult process that led to a new law.
The Big Box Ordinance does not ban big stores. It simply codifies the understanding that some very large stores potentially have a large impact on their surroundings. Therefore it sets a threshold of 100,000 square feet and says that above that threshold we should evaluate proposals on a case by case basis. It sets standards for mitigation, and provides for a series of public hearings where people can raise their concerns about hours, truck and auto traffic, safety, noisy outdoor activities, etc. And it gives our elected representatives, the mayor and council, the authority to approve or reject the proposal. Many cities have such laws as part of their zoning codes.
The law was passed in September and now El Con Mall wants special treatment. They don't want the ordinance to apply to them. And it seems the mayor doesn't want the ordinance to apply to them either. Right now, their development agreement, which recently became public, has a Home Depot and a mystery big box. Approving that, sight unseen, is against the letter and totally against the spirit of the Big Box Ordinance. And the mall's development agreement stipulates that no other new law, including the Big Box Ordinance, would apply to them for 20 years into the future. And this was all rushed onto the table at the meeting on the 24th.
A huge segment of the community has agreed that it's inappropriate to have stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot in a mall that is so tightly surrounded by neighborhoods on all sides, in this case, designated historic neighborhoods. All three local newspapers agreed. The mayor agreed -- when he was candidate for mayor. Even John C. Scott agreed.
The crisis over El Con Mall led to the ordinance. Why should they be exempted? Why should they have a special deal? We want the law to apply to El Con as to other commercial developments.
The three City Council members who walked out of the meeting in protest (Jerry Anderson, Steve Leal and José Ibarra) performed a heroic act to defend a basic principle of our legal system: the law applies to everyone.
-- Chris Tanz
Dan Huff's "Walkout on Walkup" (January 27) marked nothing more than yellow journalism at its finest, considering he lives smack dab in the precious El Con neighborhood area. And please don't make it appear that you are speaking for the midtown residents, you're speaking for your NIMBYS! The midtown area extends beyond the El Con neighborhood. If you even had a pulse of what many of the midtown people wanted, you'd be disappointed to find that we need and want this shopping mall, and deserve proper access into it!
I also attended the entertaining January 24 City Council meeting, or lack thereof. The only yes-men were Councilmen Anderson, Leal and Ibarra, who were catering to the loud neighborhood groups, and stonewalled the meeting by walking out on the public! And now, who'd ever think that Ibarra would become The Weekly's best buddy -- only for a fleeting moment though. The real kudos belong to Mayor Walkup, council members Ronstadt, Scott and especially West, who remained, and were willing to explore compromises that would have benefited the whole community, neighbors and mall. After the meeting abruptly adjourned, I overheard some of the neighbors telling others the types of stores they would deem "acceptable" to them, and saying that all Fifth Street access should be closed to El Con. This is not only the neighbors' mall; this is the community's mall. Other neighborhoods have also experienced change and growth and survived, and so will the El Con neighborhood!
The mall owners do have a responsibility for mitigation measures, and to keep Jones and Palo Verde streets closed. But the neighborhood groups must also compromise and keep Dodge Boulevard open, and stop opposing larger stores that want to enter and build up the mall! Both sides please compromise. If not, let the community decide with a referendum. Long live Dodge and the El Con Mall!
-- Sharon K. Platt