B y D a v e D e v i n e
REMEMBER SEVERAL YEARS ago when there was a large controversy over plans to destroy a nice stretch of a natural wash on the city's far east side? Neighborhood activists, local developers' attorneys and the Arizona Supreme Court all got involved.
What was the purpose of this destruction of nature? To put in a standard California-style shopping center, of course.
The background: Broadway Houghton Associates (BHA), owners of the property at the southeast corner of Broadway and Houghton, bought it in 1980 when it was still in the county. They intended to develop it as a shopping center even though a wash cuts the property in two.
Eventually the City of Tucson annexed the property, and later the city council adopted the Environmental and Natural Resources Zone, placing new constraints on development around certain washes in town, including the one cutting through Broadway Houghton Associates' land.
BHA officials asked the city's Board of Adjustment in 1991 to exempt them from the new regulations. They argued the property was purchased with the intention of building a shopping center, and thus complying with the new restrictions would make it uneconomical to develop.
BHA also asked the board for 10 years, not the normal one year, in which to develop the property. This despite the fact BHA officials told the board at a meeting on March 27, 1991, "We have a ripe project. This isn't any premature request whose time has not yet come. We have an anchor tenant (ABCO) who's ready to go."
The board, on December 18, 1991, granted the requested variances from the zoning code and allowed BHA three years to build.
That decision was appealed to the City Council and eventually the courts, which ruled on a technicality that the board's decision should stand. This decision was made in October 1992, so BHA had until September 29 of this year to build.
But there's still no shopping center. Instead, BHA is asking for an additional 31 months.
Company lawyers say BHA's lack of performances is due to the uncertainty created by the lawsuit and the "effect of a real estate recession."
Why should the Board of Adjustment believe a project is going to be built now, even though the developers already had three years to do it, but didn't?
Why should the board grant a variance requested only on economic grounds, when this is clearly prohibited by city and state law?
Why should the board approve the destruction of a little part of nature when the site can still be developed and the wash retained?
How can anyone believe an "economic recession" was occurring in Tucson in the last three years?
Isn't it time to give Mother Nature a chance to survive now? Shouldn't the Board of Adjustment simply follow Nancy Reagan's advice and "Just Say No"?
A public hearing before the Board of Adjustment will be held on this case in the City Council chambers, 255 W. Alameda St., on Wednesday, October 25. It's the last item on the agenda, so it may be a long afternoon, if you're interested.
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