Monday, March 21, 2011

Koz & Mini-Dorms

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik is concerned about the city's latest maneuver in the fight against mini-dorms. He sent us this missive today:

The "Determination" by the Zoning Administrator related to Jefferson Park 'mini-dorms' stated "The Goodman Development does not meet the intent or purpose of the R-1 zone." My question of the people who were involved in crafting that determination is simply, 'what changed?'

At issue in this case were several properties that have been redeveloped and are now occupied. Some residents of Jefferson Park with standing took the position that the Goodman Development does not comply with R-1 zoning regulations because the properties are not used for purposes permitted under that zone. The Zoning Administrator has now agreed with that assertion. Again, the question is 'what has changed to cause this administrative ruling?'

Ultimately, this is not just about Goodman. Several other builders have constructed "mini-dorms" in not only Jefferson Park Neighborhood, but in Feldman's (a lawsuit is pending in Feldman's already) and in other areas around the City. In each case, the City issued permits for demolition of existing structures and the construction of new housing units.This has been going on for over a decade. It is striking that one of the criteria alleged to have been used by the Zoning Administrator in coming to this determination is "historical information." The history is undeniable;

the City has allowed the destruction of historic homes in several neighborhoods, the building of 'mini-dorms' on those sites and has now changed course and taken the position that it's all a big mistake and that the uses are not permitted.

Every single person on either side of this issue should be scratching their heads wondering, 'what changed?' Neighborhoods have undergone substantial changes, builders have made substantial investments, and the rules of the game have now been altered. The language of the Land Use Code has not been changed. The uses of the properties being developed have been well known and have not changed. To take the position that the City investigates only after complaints have been filed is fatuous; the city denies permits all the time when it deems uses to be inconsistent with proposed uses. Nothing in the set of facts has changed but the determination.

The homes are lost. The investment money is lost. Renters are now wondering their fate. Other rentals all over town are now looking at this decision and wondering their fate. The potential for litigation is obvious.

The relevant purpose statement in R-1 zoning states that the zone provides for urban, low density, single-family residential development. The City has permitted Goodman Development to build multi-bedroom, multi-bath dwellings, designed and marketed specifically to UA students, leased to the individual occupants, rooms keyed to provide security for each tenant and no identifiable "head of household." Each of those was a criterion used by the Zoning Administrator in finding that the properties being challenged fail the R-1 zoning purpose. They are now deemed to be "Group Dwellings" not allowed in R-1.

If that decision had been made upon the first application for a permit to build one of these structures, the logic would be understandable. If it were made after having seen the first use pattern involved in one of these buildings, the same would be true. But now? Years after homes have been destroyed, millions of dollars have been invested and hundreds of people are living in these properties under what is now deemed to be an impermissible use?

The question begs an answer, from all parties involved. From the neighborhood residents who now have this bittersweet determination after years of watching the demolition of properties. From the developers who have been allowed to move forward with their investments based on having previously been granted the right to do so. And perhaps most importantly, from the taxpayers who will ultimately be left holding the bag for this decision when it ends up in court. So again, to each of the City staff who had a hand in this epiphany; what changed that would cause you to have placed this community in this position. Somebody finally filed a complaint? Not good enough - you review and act on permit applications every day. The use just became apparent? Not good enough - these uses have been documented and have been the cause for innumerable meetings and discussions with neighborhoods, builders and city staff for years. Somebody finally asked the right question? Not good enough - residents, builders and council members should not have to engage in a game of 20 questions when asking for determinations such as this.

Some wag once said "it's a fine mess you've gotten us into." It applies here. Unfortunately, it's not a situation comedy that we're dealing with. Here the stakes are immense, and the reasoning is illusive.

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