Archive for the ‘Conversations’ Category

Click here to read:  Neighborhood association ought to back Main Gate project, by Robert Lanning, Architect.   Published by the Daily Star.   Here are some other points to consider:  An edge / transition strategy is necessary.  It is missing.  One way it can happen is with a sub-regional downtown / U of A master plan that outlines what is coming so neighborhoods know what kind of final input they need to be prepared to engage in.  The MGD skirts this.  It is a fast track style re-zoning which is developer driven.  If the project is like the $35 million dollar“Vue on Apache” in Tempe, Neighborhoods might have reservations.  Not only is neighborhood input necessary in driving our best urban planning but to imply neighborhoods can not be part of a plan omits a key part of the picture.  Watching the frustration of developers and neighborhoods year after year speaks for itself.  Many agree that the transition is or should be the stretch of property just east of Euclid, but what does it look like?   Are there plazas, hard-scape, sidewalks, trees and base development of low masses, including some of the fine historic structures creating the idea of being walkable and pedestrian friendly.   A good transition insures this and when you look at historical structures that might be part of this, you have to see beyond the weeds.  Map courtesty of WUNA.


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The Official Website for the Main Gate Overlay District re-zoning   The following are PDF links that can be clicked on and downloaded.  This will cover information about this rezoning that is  helpful for citizens to understand it:

“The City’s Plan”     WUNA’s Plan, a Visual    →   Rezoning Map   →   City Manager’s Letter (Descriptive)  →    Adoption Letter  

For information regarding opposition to the overlay and citizen view-points, please view WUNA’s official website and facebook sites:    westuniversityneighborhood.org,   facebook.com/nowayoverlay.   Send inquiries to WUNA’s official email address for the referendum action:  nowayoverlay@gmail.com

Opinion:  Ordinance # 10968, Main Gate District Optional Urban Overlay excludes substantive citizen involvement.  It was adopted through quick a 90 day re-zoning.  Now, with citizens initiating a referendum petition to overturn the re-zoning, it looks larger in public scope than a re-zoning process can handle.  The re-zoning adopted on February 28th, is described by proponents as a good thing for business as Mayor Rothschild proclaims “Tucson is open for Business”.  It addresses  shortcomings in infill and growth along transit, namely the modern street car route.  The City of Tucson had a comparable alternative that contained real elements of public inclusion and met criteria for density.  Mayor and Council chose staff’s plan that favors the immediate probability of issuing  building permits.  See Campus Acquisitions  In the larger picture, this rezoning action sets a precedent for more overlays done in a manner that continues to limit substantive citizen input.   A citizen based sub-regional master plan would be a clearing and could pave a smoother road for approvals of future overlays.  As Tucson digs out of its recession, more overlays will be coming.   Citizens need input on these.   UUI

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Main Gate Urban Overlay District, UOD; reflections on its February 28th Adoption – See “Sacrifice Zone” for an explanation of UOD’s.

The City of Tucson could have supported another plan put together by WUNA (West University Neighborhood Association) that would have maintained the respect of core neighborhoods and still be a significant plan; apparently, without an immediate anchor like the one adopted.  A dilemma; maybe?  M & C chose the plan that satisfied the most immediate needs of a handful of property owners, developers and one major interest, out of town.  It is in fact a legitimate and seemingly legal choice, but one that City leadership will have to live with now, because it has ignited something beyond just WUNA’s interests.

To make this clear however, the choice to adopt that particular plan was not about design, creativity or density. I wish that was said.  I can’t be sure what the choice was about, but it showed how disregarded citizen input really is.

Clearly,  the underlying problem is an absence of a sub-regional master plan that has core neighborhoods at its heart.  Such a plan could be referenced in the 2013 general plan referendum and could guide UODs and work in the spirit of the UOD enabling ordinance;  preservation through attraction.  At best,  city planners think this is too hard to do, but that kind of certainty is a legitimate part of any esteemed university city that chooses to embrace an integrated quality of life befitting of our University of Arizona and our City of Tucson.  The U of A area plan is very inadequate and the UODs are looking like a ruse to neighborhoods.  WUNA is another slain lamb here.  I am not saying this can’t be fixed, but that damage is done.  So now,  the projects that come out of the MG UOD will get permitted just a little bit quicker.

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Locals protest Main Gate plan, building criteriaArizona Daily Wildcat   

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“The city’s controversial minidorm ruling will almost certainly be settled in court. But the issue reflects a lack of planning on the parts of the city and the University of Arizona to address the growing need for more student housing”  Daily Star –  Read the rest of the article right here

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Tucson residents don’t want to imagine exploding gas prices in a typical sun belt city designed to rely on lots of roads.  That day of reckoning is moving upon us and the message is fewer cars and more sustainability.  These notions might reflect in current trends to provide student housing that will rely on the modern street car and other public transportation.   The University of Arizona recently reached a goal to house freshman students on campus. Now, developers want to tap into the rest of the market for high density sustainable housing projects with one of the first,  looking to be  The District at UA. Not withstanding, the anxiety of homeowners, West University Neighborhood is particularly unhappy with it because its edge relationship with the neighborhood is too abrupt.  That is simply, an omission of planning that the UA and City of Tucson choose to ignore.  Nonetheless, the District still speaks more of an urbanized housing future than popular inefficient alternatives. This is a question about the  balance between an urbanized university and its neighbors.

The market driver is the 30 thousand perennial UA students scattered around a few dozen neighborhoods.  They are a shifting market geared towards much less driving. That begs the question; will the vacuum that this shift creates, be in-filled with better and more stable single family housing around the U of A.   As vehicle-free high density housing projects are built, market pressure will lessen to build vehicle dependent group home style mini-dorms, which lease as fast as they are built right now; to make a point.   They are the antithesis of sustainable student  housing.  Now, as the City of Tucson sees it, group homes are not actually a residential use in its recent zoning determination.  The alternative scenario is more urbanized student housing solutions and re-vitalized single family zones surrounding the U of A.

On a bigger planning level, Tucson’s latest vision project,   Imagine Greater Tucson (IGT), actually introduced a survey of what Tucson citizens want to see happen to the greater Tucson region at the Marriot Hotel on April 7th.  Out of (9) focus areas, the University of Arizona and the subject of Urban Planning were (2) of these.  Our problems are all around us.  Its a matter of identifying and solving them,  unlike Tucson’s past vision exercises.



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On May 22nd West University Neighborhood Association (WUNA) sponsored a public charrette focused along its interface with the University of Arizona.   Bill Mackey of Rob Paulus Architects introduced the forum with a brief historical overview of density comparisons.   WUNA welcomed the suggestion that its transition areas could benefit from creatively placed density increases   It currently has a density  4 to 5 dwellings  per acre compared to our foothills which is 1 unit per acre.  The charrette focus was along the street car route.   Approximately 30 participants split into groups to study the area bordered by Speedway, Park, Euclid and 6th St which is shown in the attached clickable thumbnail. Properties in the area comprise a variety of owners which are candidates for creative re-development and higher density.    Charrette participants discussed pros and cons, ideas, uses, functional issues and transition concerns along existing homes situated at the corner of Speedway and Euclid.  Dean Cervelli of CALA, the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, talked about an upcoming  studio focus on interface design and planning issues.  Jane McCollum of the Marshall Foundation provided input on her concerns for the focus area.   WUNA has taken a bold first step to engage in a dialogue that will encourage many other neighborhoods to get on board, deriving ultimate support from the University and the City of Tucson.   WUNA plans to continue its lead in this discussion as  the modern streetcar project develops, which runs through the center of its historical neighborhood.   Many other sensitive neighborhoods stands to gain increased stability and identity as the momentum for re-inventing Tucson’s core continues.  A dynamic interface between Tucson’s urban core, the university  and historical neighborhoods will benefit all of Tucson.   Join the discussion.  Get involved.

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