Unexpected Endings

An update on some of the last year's news stories by Dave Devine.

In 2003, The Weekly covered a wide variety of local news items. Here's an update on some of those stories.

In September, a review of the decision to close Keen Elementary School near 22nd Street and Alvernon Way, supposedly in order to protect Davis Monthan Air Force Base from possible closure, emphasized how neighbors felt the Tucson Unified School District Board had been less than fair ("Shut Up and Shut Down," Sept. 4). A citizens' committee will suggest that the soon-to-be displaced students get to choose which of three schools to attend: Dietz, Duffy or Kellond, each of which is three or more miles away from Keen.

While some committee members believe a federal lawsuit should be filed in an effort keep Keen open, others agree with an area resident who says, "We've done the best we could, and want things wrapped up."

Several stories in the past year covered Tucson's recurring billboard battles. In January ("Bucks Over Beauty," Jan. 9), a piece focused on a huge sign next to the Veterans Memorial Overpass: While appointed Pima County officials wanted it to stay, many citizens demanded it go. In this case, the public won, and negotiations continue to have the billboard removed. Meanwhile, the county is preparing to close the roadway while the overpass is rebuilt, with a scheduled April start date.

On the northwest side, a string of billboards along Interstate 10 was covered in an October article ("Billboard Bounty," Oct. 2). The Arizona Department of Transportation was apparently giving those billboards preferential treatment. A few weeks after the story ran, the Phoenix office of the U.S. Department of Transportation wrote ADOT about these signs. They wanted to know why the state agency ignored 30 years of past policy and Pima County's stringent zoning and development standards when dealing with the billboards. ADOT has yet to respond to that letter.

ADOT was also involved with another continuing controversy concerning a proposed rockfall containment project located in a prime birding area near the town of Patagonia. A March story ("Rocky Road Redux," March 13) looked at the environmental assessment report prepared for the concept and concluded that if state planners had their way, dirt would be flying by now. That hasn't happened, because ADOT is still awaiting approval from the federal government. If it gets the go ahead, construction is slated to start next September.

Three other construction projects also drew coverage. One, the proposal to build a mixed-use development at the corner of Sixth Street and Campbell Avenue ("Building Up," April 24), created an uproar in the Sam Hughes Neighborhood. Most of the animosity, though, wasn't about the concept, but how the local neighborhood association's board of directors handled the issue. Those ill feelings still linger, even after the City Council gave its approval to the development, and there is talk of an attempted coup d'etat at next month's neighborhood elections.

A contentious six-story student housing project on Park Avenue south of Speedway Boulevard is making its way through the city's review process, while an already approved single-family development on the westside has yet to break ground. A July article reviewed the controversy surrounding a proposal to build 14 homes on a sloping piece of vacant property, with developer Jonathan Tate indicating construction would begin shortly ("Unhappy Annexation," July 10). But five months later, the land remains untouched.

That same issue carried a story with a more definitive resolution ("Hose Job," July 10). Former customers of the HUB Water Company living near Sabino Canyon wanted to be annexed into the Metro Water District, a move vigorously opposed by the Tucson Water Department. The City Council initially backed its own officials, but after media attention focused on the issue, the council reversed itself and in August voted to let the HUB residents go. Reb Guillot, one of those who led the effort, said: "It took a lot of time and work, but it felt good after it was done."

Also feeling better about his situation is Peter Hoogwater, proprietor of the Roadrunner hostel in downtown's Armory Park neighborhood. An April story ("Loathsome Lodging," April 3) discussed the battle he and his brother were having with neighbors and city officials about the operation of the business. Eight months later, progress has been made to bring the hostel into conformity with city land use regulations, and Hoogwater says, "Hopefully we'll be able to open pretty soon," a sentiment which his neighbors now echo.

Also working its way through the city system is the idea covered in a July article of initiating the use of photoradar on Tucson streets ("Smile!" July 31). According to Capt. Tom McNally of the Tucson Police Department's traffic division, a study done earlier this year showed 9 percent of drivers exceeded the speed limit on selected arterials. Admitting he is a proponent on instituting photoradar to control both speeding and reduce red-light running, McNally says he has prepared a memo requesting the equipment be utilized. Before that happens, however, both Tucson's police chief and City Council have to give their green light to the technology.

Certainly less controversial than that traffic-control measure could be was the outcome of the attempt to install cost-effective traffic circles in the Samos neighborhood near Grant Road and Campbell Avenue. As an October article ("Going Around in Circles," Oct. 9) showed, requirements imposed by city regulations had dramatically slowed the implementation process down while substantially increasing the price of the circles. But after the story ran, according to neighborhood association president Henry Jacobson, city staff members changed their tune--and the project is now moving toward an affordable January completion.

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