Housing or Headache?

Opinions differ on the development of more student housing in the Sam Hughes neighborhood.

While the University of Arizona faces more budget cuts and the possibility of reduced enrollment, nearby residents continue to experience the impacts of expansion.

The latest proposal is for a mixed-use development at the southeast corner of Campbell Avenue and Sixth Street in the Sam Hughes neighborhood.

The former Southern Arizona Mental Health Corporation building is located on the site. But the property was sold to Town West Realty, which intends to clear the land and construct 50 residential units along with 6,000 square feet of commercial space.

James Horvath, from Town West, optimistically predicts that even though construction hasn't started, the residential complex can be ready for occupancy this August, in time for the school year. He says the firm intends to lease out the "apartment homes" to a variety of University populations at rent levels from $800 a month for the four two-bedroom units to $1,800 for the 40 four-bedroom apartments.

Horvath believes his company has done numerous things to insure a quality product. These include architecturally blending the project with the surrounding historic area, pledging to place existing utility lines underground and promising not to rent individual bedrooms, a common practice with University student housing.

Town West representatives have also been negotiating with the city of Tucson to abandon the alleys which cut through the block in exchange for space to accommodate a traffic turn lane on Campbell Avenue and a bus pullout along Sixth Street. In addition, Horvath has been working with the Sam Hughes Neighborhood Association on an agreement to address its concerns.

The initial agreement proposed by the developer covered items such as on-site parking, access to the project and security measures. It also addressed, in general terms, the important issue of tenant behavior.

Some neighborhood residents remain leery of the project. Attorney John S. O'Dowd thinks the city of Tucson should immediately halt demolition of the 70-year-old office building because of its historic character. He additionally believes the city could require a density of no greater than five units per acre in keeping with the adopted University Area Plan. Current zoning, however, allows a density three times that high. O'Dowd would also like the city to perform a study on the impacts of the project prior to disposing of the alleyways.

Nearby neighbor Sue Banner, who operates a bed and breakfast, has other worries.

"Anybody knows with that concentration of young people, there will be trouble with noise and traffic," she says. "No matter what they promise, the project will take away from our quality of life. Its high density will negate the residential character of the area."

Despite these comments, Sam Hughes Neighborhood Association board isn't opposing the proposal, but is instead trying to get the best agreement with the developer it can. Mary Zulli, president of the association, characterizes the complex as a dormitory without supervision, but says current zoning allows the project and that it can be built whether the alleys are abandoned or not.

Zulli adds, though, that the agreement proposed by Horvath was unacceptable. She and a committee of the association have worked to strengthen the draft document.

"We want rules in place to prevent more than one adult per bedroom," she says, "and would like to see more supervision." They also hope to reduce the number of four-bedroom units, increase the amount of parking, have some balconies removed from the design and ensure the project is made more attractive to prospective family and year-round tenants.

Horvath received these comments just before the deadline for this article. While he hadn't had time to look at them in detail, he did say, "We'll review them with an open mind, and try to find common ground."

Once this negotiating process in concluded, the final agreement will be submitted to the entire neighborhood.

Without an agreement between Town West Realty and the neighborhood, the developer has been told there will be problems with the abandonment process. If the alleys aren't vacated by the council, City Hall officials say, the site plans for the project will have to be totally redesigned.

While efforts to conclude the agreement continue, another residential area--which has recently experienced the construction of UA student housing--has words of caution for the people of Sam Hughes.

Barbara Bixby, president of the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood west of Stone Avenue, is highly critical of a project somewhat similar to that proposed at Campbell and Sixth Street.

"This is a disaster and it has been disgusting," Bixby says of the 231-bedroom Entrada Real apartments at Stone and University Boulevard. "They have huge parties where the parking lot becomes a mosh pit. The negative impacts are extraordinary.

"The City Council needs to pay attention," she adds. "This willy-nilly 'let's develop' attitude is wrong-headed," for existing neighborhoods. "There are all kinds of ways to do creative infill, but this idea of packing college kids onto a property is crazy."

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