Pointed Dispute

Stone, Sixth would become two-way under city plan for Five Points traffic.

When the city dispatched its $273,000 consultant to Five Points to pitch a design that will chop off a point from the tilted star intersection, residents and property owners were asked to stick colored dots on the plan they preferred.

Anne Laos, a native whose family has long owned businesses and property in Armory Park and on a key Five Points leg of South Sixth Avenue, was not impressed.

Laos has been to countless meetings on transportation and land use plans. So when Priscilla Cornelio, the former deputy transportation director for the city and now an engineer for Parsons Brinckerhoff, asked Laos why she hadn't affixed a dot, Laos came right to the point.

"You don't have one that says 'do nothing.' That's where my dot is going to go," said Laos, who offered Cornelio one more bit of advice. "Sticky dots went out in grade school."

The change to Five Points, where Sixth and Stone Avenue merge south of East 18th Street, was first cooked up in another road plan, the Downtown Land Use and Circulation Study that was approved by the City Council 10 years ago and known popularly as "deluxe."

It includes converting Stone, now one-way south from downtown, and Sixth, now one-way north through downtown, to two-way traffic. Stone and Sixth have been one-way for more than 30 years.

The design for the $1.6-million Five Points project also eliminates the through passage on 18th Street. Eastbound traffic on 18th will be allowed a left turn onto Stone and a right turn onto Sixth. Drivers on 18th at Sixth will have to turn right onto Sixth. Obstructive curbs and an island will force those changes in the traffic stream that includes more than 12,000 vehicles a day on Stone and a similar number on Sixth.

Despite objections from Laos and a pack of Five Points business and property owners, the City Council blessed the changes with scant notice--the item was placed on the consent agenda along with a stack of other council business approved on a single vote--in September.

Fifteen business and property owners signed a petition asking the council to reconsider the matter and to leave Five Points as is. The council has not responded.

Laos feels a snub, one laced with politics over lingering thoughts of her son, Roy Laos III, a Republican whose multiple terms on the council from southside Ward 5 were ended by Democrat Steve Leal in 1989, and the political power of Armory Park neighbors who favor the changes.

"Carol West told us we weren't even on the radar," Laos said.

West, a Democrat who is seeking a second term this year in northeast Ward 2, replied that she could not recall saying that or anything else to Laos. "I don't think I would know her if I saw her," West said.

The plan, Laos said, will create havoc for buses at Five Points and when then have to negotiate turns to get to the Ronstadt Center downtown.

"We want them take away the bunker from the middle of Five Points and to remove the bunker from 18th," Laos said of the planned concrete traffic barriers.

Bill Rosenfeld has operated Tucson Textiles at 760 S. Stone for eight years, selling all varieties of industrial wiping cloths. The Five Points changes will severely restrict his delivery trucks, coming and going, he said.

The council and city transportation planners also should pay closer attention to growing use of Russell Avenue, which veers off of South Stone and is more of an alley beside the tiny patch of ground that is the city's Cesar Chavez Memorial.

Across Sixth, the successors to "Ugly But Honest" Clyde Wanslee are leading the used-car business into its 50th year. They, too, object to the traffic changes and the hulking curbs that will divert traffic.

Traffic volume, Laos said, will increase as the city's plans make Five Points more constrictive.

West of Stone Avenue, in Barrio Viejo, the Lalo Guererro housing project, 63 units are under construction. When completed, Van Tran, medical vans and other vehicles will only add to the traffic needing full access on 18th Street, Laos said.

Stone and Sixth mark the sharp differences between the narrow streets within Barrio Viejo and Santa Rosa on the west and the wide streets of Armory Park on the east.

Anne Lawrence is one of Laos's neighbors and a leader of the Armory Park Neighborhood and the neighborhood association's transportation committee. She also serves on the city's Planning Commission.

Armory Park suffered from spillover traffic for years, including heavy trucks that use 18th Street to get from warehouses on the east end of Armory Park to Interstate 10 or the frontage road. Roundabouts and other intersection islands have trimmed some of that, but some problems persist, Lawrence said. She is disappointed that the Five Points project is not done.

The city lacks the money to proceed and is awaiting completion of an environmental impact study by the Arizona Department of Transportation that is needed before federal funds are released, said Michael Graham, spokesman for the city's transportation department.

The plan will create traffic flow that is safer, Lawrence said.

Laos and her husband have commercial lots at Five Points and the Arizona Pharmacy, which is less of the apothecary it once was a block north at 647 S. Sixth.

Lawrence said if the Laos couple is "economically impinged" by the Five Points transportation plan then they should be entitled to compensation, which she added should be available from transportation funds.

That sends a chill through Annie Laos.

In 1994, the city swallowed up another Laos pharmacy--Bellas Artes--when it widened South Sixth and East 22nd. Fritz Laos, Anne's cousin, took a beating from the city, getting $193,000 for his store. After some minor streetscape work, the Bellas Artes property is now a vacant lot.