Guest Opinion

A battle between a 24-hour coffee shop and its frustrated neighbors rages on

The Duncans moved into the Samos Neighborhood in 2002. The neighborhood that the Duncans and I live in is bounded by Campbell and Mountain avenues, and Grant Road and Glenn Street.

The Duncans loved their home and found the Samos neighborhood to be friendly and eclectic. However, their feelings on the neighborhood would soon begin to change.

Coffee X Change started keeping its doors open 24 hours a day—and a neighborhood nightmare began. Soon, the Duncans' sleep was disrupted on a regular basis. Without enough parking in the Coffee X Change lot, patrons began parking on the street in front of the Duncans' house. People talked loudly in the streets, with occasional fights and shouting. Litter was everywhere. At least two nearby businesses frequently called police to report drug activity.

For years, pleas to Coffee X Change owner Keya Tehrani have fallen on deaf ears.

In fact, Coffee X Change built an outside patio without a permit to do so. On Dec. 16, 2004, the city's zoning department wrote a letter to Tehrani warning him that "the current dining area ... is an expansion that has not been approved. ... To abate this violation, the exterior dining area along Campbell Avenue must be removed."

Tehrani (and the city) ignored the notice, and the outdoor dining area continued to be used until December 2008, when Samos neighbors met with Ward 3 City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich and insisted that the patio be closed.

As Coffee X Change blithely ignored city threats, the Samos neighborhood continued begging for help. Samos residents, the neighborhood association and nearby businesses tried a variety of tactics. Some called Tehrani, who sometimes promised changes, and other times referred callers to his attorney, John Munger. (Munger is now running for governor.) Nothing ever got done.

When totally frustrated, neighbors called the police. Usually, by the time officers responded, the offending people had left. One officer advised neighbors to move. Neighbors on Spring Street alone estimate they've called the police more than 200 times. Tucson Police Department representatives say they can only respond to, and enforce, violations of the law.

Neighbors have mostly given up on calling the police. Ms. Duncan has taken to putting on a robe and going outside to ask late-night patrons to cease their offensive behavior. For her efforts, she has been called names and threatened.

Frustrated with the litter, Samos neighbors gathered on May 16 to clean Spring Street and the alleyway between the Chase Bank parking lot and Coffee X Change. Besides cups, napkins, straws and plastic lids, the group picked up beer bottles, a crack pipe, several needles, inhalants and condom wrappers.

In early 2009, Uhlich set up a series of meetings with Tehrani, his managers, Ward 3 neighbors, the Tucson Police Department, the city attorney and others, in an attempt to resolve the issues. Tehrani seemed to agree to mitigation—and then never followed through.

On March 16, Uhlich sent a letter to Tehrani. It outlined what had been discussed and asked that he "commit to honoring some key agreements in order to address these issues," including employing security, cleaning up trash, working with police and working with the city on parking matters.

Tehrani did not respond or address the issues.

Samos neighbors held a protest in front of Coffee X Change on Sept. 13, and received extensive TV coverage. Residents presented the manager on duty with the "Bad Business Neighbor Award." Uhlich told KGUN Channel 9: "I think we need to hear from all sides. I sympathize with the business, because we want to be friendly toward small-business owners, but I also understand the complaints from homeowners. The best solution is to bring everyone to the table and have open dialogue."

This angered neighbors, as Uhlich hosted "open dialogue" meetings at her office, and Tehrani did nothing to follow up.

Councilwoman Uhlich did call everyone to the table once again on Oct. 26. About 25 people attended, including Uhlich, County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, Tehrani and three of his managers, and 11 neighbors. The meeting did not go well. Tehrani raged at neighbors because of the protest until a Tucson Police Department captain asked him to stop.

Councilwoman Uhlich called a halt to the meeting and said she would not waste time on fruitless meetings, and reminded Tehrani that he has given nothing while the neighborhood has been trying to work with him.

Soon after the meeting, the sign on the front of Coffee X Change read, "Elect Ben Buehler-Garcia, 4 local businesses."