Loathsome Lodging?

Conflict arises in Armory Park between a hostel owner, the city and the neighborhood.

A local consultant says the city's treatment of his client, who just wants to run a hostel in downtown's Armory Park neighborhood, has been grossly unfair.

"This is big-time bureaucratic payback," Alex Kimmelman says. "The city is catering to the neighborhood association while doing everything to aggravate and obstruct my client."

Michael Hoogwater certainly didn't start off on the right foot over four years ago when he opened the Roadrunner Inn, at 346 E. 12th St., charging $18 for a bed. Almost immediately, a complaint was filed with the city alleging the business was illegal and the owner was later cited for violations of the Land Use Code.

In addition, while Hoogwater thought he was improving the property, some neighbors found alterations he made to the front of the old home to be incongruent with its historic character. Despite the numerous problems, the hostel remained open.

The outstanding legal issues finally led last year to Hoogwater being ordered by a Tucson court to cease operation. His failure to do so eventually resulted in a $2,250 fine, but the business stayed open anyway.

In frustration, nearby neighbor Phyllis Factor says of the Roadrunner Inn and its owner: "I'm outraged he is allowed to operate. He blatantly violates city rules and regulations and has a total lack of respect for the judicial process."

Hoogwater did apply to the city's Board of Adjustment to waive the on-site parking requirement of the Land Use Code. Over the objections of the Armory Park Neighborhood Association and several surrounding neighbors, and even though there is no off-street parking on the property, the request was granted last June.

But a binding condition was placed on the variance: Hoogwater was required to follow through on his suggestion to purchase a small city-owned parking lot which is across the street from the hostel, and immediately adjacent to an apartment house he also owns.

To implement this idea, Hoogwater paid almost $2,500 to have the parking lot surveyed and appraised. Before the process began, city staff members indicated that by using a rough assessed valuation methodology, the lot might be worth $14,000. But they indicated that when an appraisal is performed, all bets are off about value.

Even as the appraisal was being prepared, Chris Leighton, the city's parking program coordinator, recommended the lot be restricted for use only for the immediately adjacent apartments, since they also lacked sufficient spaces. Thus, one city agency urged the parking if sold be limited to one side of the street, while its Board of Adjustment required the lot be designated for use by the other side.

Despite the contradiction, the appraisal process proceeded and concluded the property was worth almost $45,000. Facing a tripled price increase--along with a recommendation he not be allowed to use the parking lot for the hostel anyway--Hoogwater employed Kimmelman to look for other options.

The consultant says only about 25 percent of the hostel's customers drive to town, most arriving by train or bus instead. Because of that, he proposed the Roadrunner Inn be allowed to purchase the six on-street spaces around it to satisfy the parking requirement of the Land Use Code.

Even though the city allows this for businesses and a public school near the UA, Leighton recommended against it in this situation. He said these spaces had to "be sold to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis," and thus wouldn't guarantee parking for the hostel.

Kimmelman calls this position simple obstructionism.

"He's kissing the ass of the complainants in the neighborhood," the consultant says. "The city has an obligation to provide a reasonable solution, but has consistently failed to do that in this case."

Given the latest roadblock, Hoogwater has concluded he has had enough. "It's been most frustrating because whoever screams the hardest seems to get the city to act," he says.

He has decided to leave town temporarily and turn the operation of the hostel over to his brother, Peter. While Michael had hoped to build a handicap-accessible unit in the backyard of the Roadrunner Inn, his brother says he wants to end the controversy by paving over this vacant portion of the lot for parking.

Factor says she wouldn't oppose parking in the backyard, even though she doesn't believe it is adequate for the hostel. She would prefer instead to see the business closed, but adds she could live with it if the legal issues were resolved and the historic integrity of the front of the building restored.

She thinks, however, that after four years of haggling over the issues, some of her neighbors, "are becoming more hostile toward the hostel."

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