New Options

Developers could get more leeway in the Warehouse District under proposed zoning changes

Proposed new zoning regulations could have significant long-term implications for downtown's historic Warehouse District.

In the short-term, meanwhile, local artists' attitudes about the area remain generally—but not universally—positive.

Employed by the city of Tucson, Corky Poster's consulting firm recently released a draft of alternative zoning plans for much of the land adjacent to the planned Downtown Links roadway that will connect Barraza-Aviation Parkway to Interstate 10. (Check it out at; click on "Downtown Links Alternative Zoning Draft.")

Four separate areas along the proposed roadway's path are covered by the proposal, including almost the entire Warehouse District. Following the requisite administrative and public-review period, Poster hopes the new optional zoning can be in place by December.

If the plan is approved by the City Council, a property owner wouldn't have to go through a typical rezoning process.

"If a property owner is going for a building permit," Poster reports, "at the counter in the city's Development Services Department, they'd make a choice: the existing underlying zoning, or the optional rules. That decides the zoning."

A potential advantage of the new zoning would be the end of the ban on residential uses in much of the Warehouse District. About half of the area is presently zoned for industrial uses, Poster points out, which prohibits residential development. To change that for an individual parcel normally requires about an eight-month rezoning process, he adds.

The idea of artist live-work space in the Warehouse District has been discussed for at least 20 years, but has never been implemented. The optional zoning would greatly expand residential possibilities, allowing buildings up to six stories, in some places. The objective is to create a "mixed-use urban area" with higher density development.

Artist Elizabeth Burden is president of the Warehouse Arts Management Organization (WAMO), which controls a few district buildings.

"My understanding is that many communities are doing this," Burden says about the alternative zoning, "to spur creative development that fits in (the existing surroundings)."

However, Burden would like to see the implementation process for the new zoning plans altered. First, before the plans are adopted, she believes district artists need to be better informed about the impacts that the alternative rezoning plans would have. This, she says, is partially the responsibility of WAMO.

Second, Burden thinks a developer proposing a project should be required to meet with those currently in the area prior to proceeding.

"A conversation (about the proposed development) needs to be held up front," Burden says. "The developer needs to go to the artists first to discuss whether the project fits in with the adopted plan for the area."

Burden wants that public-review process to be a requirement of the new zoning regulations.

Marvin Shaver, a former WAMO president, is upbeat about the alternative-zoning proposal.

"It encourages development, but I don't see that as a negative," he says. "We want more development, but also to save the warehouses and keep artists in them. Then we'd be happy."

Whether current artists in the Warehouse District would be happy with the alternative zoning is unclear; those contacted didn't know much about it.

Despite that, Toole Avenue tenant and warehouse property manager Steven Eye is optimistic about the area's overall future.

"Everything's going in a positive direction," Eye says. "The city will have something to be proud of."

On the other hand, artist Joe Hatton, a tenant in the Citizens Warehouse on Sixth Street, saw several district changes last year that concerned him. These included publicly owned structures being sold to private owners, and the management of his building being changed.

As a result, he expressed serious reservations about the area's future. (See "Funky or Gentrified?" May 6, 2010.) Today, he has a slightly different perspective. "I don't think it has gentrified too much," Hatton comments, "but I'm still fearful it will."

Dwight Metzger of the Gloo Factory print shop amplifies that concern. He'll soon be leaving his long-time leased space on Toole Avenue, and is seeking security elsewhere in a building that he will own.

"It's going where I feared," Metzger warns of the Warehouse District. "I fought passionately against the gentrification of this area. (I hoped) artists would own the buildings, not speculators. But that battle was lost."

Artist David Aguirre has also been in the Warehouse District for a long time and was once the property manager of the Citizens building. He has now moved to a large warehouse at the corner of Seventh and Toole avenues.

The 16,000 square feet of space available, Aguirre reports, will not be divided into individual studios. "There will be a collective of galleries and workshops," he explains, "with a group of artists sharing space."

He hopes to begin holding small events and workshops in the building later this month. Next door, a microbrewery is being planned. Aguirre anticipates it opening this summer.

"It will reactivate the district," Aguirre enthusiastically declares.

Based on that and other changes made to the area, Aguirre thinks it's time to re-brand the Warehouse District.

"The district is shaping up in a new and different direction (than anticipated)," Aguirre says, "but in a good way."