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Archive for the ‘Edges and Overlays’ Category

Last Monday, 12/19/11, the City of Tucson invited residents within 300′ of the proposed Main Gate District Urban Overlay District (UOD).   The UOD is a modern zoning based concept that can stimulate development in around downtown and university.  Tucson is still waiting for one to work.  Despite the challenge of transitioning into neighborhoods along their edges, these districts are necessary for Tucson.  The downtownLINKS is one of the first proposed overlays that is not yet approved and adopted.  Planners and residents know we need to find an edge strategy to preserve the dignity of impacted neighborhoods that are looking at an urbanized future.   The Main Gate District is the next hot plan that will bring in hi-rise housing in close proximity to university neighborhoods and perceived traffic.  Much of this drive for density  is synonymous with the Modern Street Car as the City brain storms ways to make it viable.  It needs density along its route or the street car simply faces a weak performance, but if it works, traffic will not be an issue.

Residents of West University Neighborhood (WUNA)  are troubled by the Main Gate District as it sets the stage for highrise housing adjacent to single story historic homes; which in one case, a 12-14 story zone proposed directly behind 68 year resident Brian McCarthy’s bungalow facing Euclid Ave.  Residents fear not only the view of nearby highrises, but concentrated density of single user groups, i.e. students and their undergraduate lifestyle.  How do you guarantee the right mixed use?  If you factor in the rest of the streetcar linkage, downtownLINKS, etc…, there is plenty of space for a variety of  housing and business options and uses.   A consensus on what defines the right transitions is perhaps the biggest key to success.   Imagine a scenario where residents and developers saw through the same lens. Impossible?

Other fears are lack of neighborhood input once such an overlay is adopted.  Neighborhoods do not have substantive input.  They have their required 300′ proximity notification,  public comment and toothless advisory protocol.  In a cynical sense, if neighborhoods had any real power, they would have a large part in the planning process and involve the right decision makers.  One would think the planning commission would be that venue, but it hasn’t appeared so.   A smaller targeted UA area commission might be an idea worth looking at.  One continuing hurdle for U of A neighborhoods, is that residents want to define what they wish to see in a vacuum, which is partly why what they keep getting the wrong development.   Now is always the time move on anything.  Currently, that piece of time ripened opportunity is the Main Gate District.

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On June 21st, Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association (JPNA)  succeeded in becoming Tucson’s 2nd pilot Neighborhood Preservation Zone (NPZ) by adoption of the Jefferson Park Design Manual (JPDM) You can view in PDF by clicking here.   Council members Uhlich, Scott and Romero argued effectively to protect core neighborhoods and pass the manual, while Council member Kozachik and Mayor Walkup showed  remorse over the JPDM’s omission of a density strategy along arterial edges.  Considering both good and bad, the vote was unanimous.  While, we are a step closer to saving the heart of  residential zoning uses around the university, planners and stakeholders have a mandate to come up with the right answer for edge density and diversity.  In the coming weeks, this issue will get hotter, as a key vote by the board of adjustment will reverberate through out core neighborhoods.  The ruling to enforce proper residential uses is under appeal and is scheduled to be publicly heard by the Board of Adjustment  If the ruling survives, neighborhoods will still need targeted incentives and policies that will assure stable investment in their university homes.  In fact, several JPNA residents stated they were holding off on property improvements until passage of the JPDM.   Now, more than ever,  neighborhood representatives and developers would like to see a comprehensive housing vision with a clear edge strategy.  Councilman Kozachik stated after the adoption of the JPDM, regarding mixed uses and targeted zoning density along major roadways, that “…this is critical to protecting the interiors of our neighborhoods from non-conforming and incompatible building…”  One could say that implies a pro-active city government that can play a lead in the mandate for  a cohesive venture between the University, the City of Tucson, the Core Community and developers to save what is left of our core neighborhoods.  Please click on Arizona Daily Star’s editorial.

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Imagine a Greater Tucson (IGT)  is a envisioning process, whereby the public inputs how they see regional growth.  After  a series of community introductions the process took on community level, hands on exercises, in which  public meetings were divided into small groups.  Each group has an opportunity to create a planning scenario for Greater Tucson by placing high, medium, or low density paper chips on a large map and labeling future transit, pedestrian/bicycle and private vehicular arterials throughout the region.  Several hundred people have participated in the workshops, producing more than 100 maps.  The end product will be a consensus.  Participants range from very concerned and focused individuals to a bit oblivious to the bigger problems we face growing to over 2 million population.  Lets hope the public has the right foresight.  Lets hope the IGT findings are embedded into the  General Plan or “Plan Tucson”,  scheduled for voter ratification sometime after 2011.  With so much of a up-zoning component, this is critical for its success.

So what does it mean for downtown and the U of A.  Most of us know one not so good example of an urban area that impacts us all.  That is downtown Tucson.  Stakeholders including the U of A see a more positive future.   Can this help set a tone for the IGT goals?  One common theme seen in the IGT exercises is more density and urban edge expression along key transit routes all through out the region including downtown designations in outlying charter centers.  The end product will be interesting.  Closer to downtown Tucson, we have an example in the works; the 4 mile stretch of the modern street car route linking downtown with the U OF A and the adjacent aviation corridor connection through the warehouse district.  See downtownLINKS.  One of Tucson’s more fiscally conservative republican councilman, Steve Kozachik,  is itching to tackle the up zoning and development strategies along this small 4 mile streetcar corridor to make it a worth while investment.  Is this a  model for the larger task of playing out the goals of the IGT process?  Stay tuned.

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University neighborhoods want edge protection, but urban edges still need the right development, so what gives.  Many recent attempts at UA housing infill along key edges have stalled or pulled out all together for one reason or another.  “The District at UA” is the latest serious attempt at housing infill along a key urban edge.  Its location is the site of the now demolished old YMCA site in the southeast  arterial corner of West University Neighborhood (WUNA).  You can pull up drawings and elevations @ the City of Tucson’s PRO site.   The “District” is a nice looking project, reflective of the Infill district and UA housing needs, but falls in vacuum of necessary guidance to make it work for everyone.  The issue for WUNA is a transition to low density and respect for its interior.  The district plans do not do the job well enough.  The project narrowly skirts WUNA’s  local historic preservation zone (HPZ) and abuts 5 historic homes also outside of the HPZ with five story construction.  Property owners afraid of the project are selling out to avoid it and as a result, the homes will likely be leveled and the issue will just move in closer to the interior of WUNA or  shifting 5 homes to the North @ WUNA’s boundary.   This really points out the need for an edge development strategy.

The District is not a bad project.  It just falls into a planning vacuum.  the closest document we have to give any guidance is the City’s UA Area Plan – pdf download.  It is 22 years old and doesn’t say much about edges, infill, transitions or incentives.  A badly needed update could morph it into an  underlying document to incentive overlays much like the infill district itself, which is also linked in with its own sub overlay proposals for urban development; downtown.  The Infill Incentive district (IID) also impacts The District at UA project, but lacks discussion of an edge strategy.

What frustrates neighborhoods is the inability to regulate out of  the incessant encroachment of bad infill.  Unlike WUNA, most have no HPZ protection making the issue much more threatening to their survival.    2006 property protection laws canceled out any new regulation or new HPZ’s  as a means to expanding protection to neighborhoods that need help.  What could happen is for the City, the UA and the UA neighborhood community to come to grips with the right edge development vision and preservation strategy; basically, a common consensus for the area.  It’s  clear that the UA states in its own master plans that supporting the viability and attraction of its adjacent neighborhoods is key to its own success, so why not?   It’s all part of the big picture.  There just isn’t any action or incentive to help that vision along and the City of Tucson is painfully silent on these issues.  Neighborhoods are desperate to do something.  Consider for instance that UA neighborhood, Jefferson Park (JPNA), over run by mini dorms, is now investing its own resources to force the City of Tucson to simply define what an R-1 use is.  R-1 zoning abuse alone,  is tearing apart a lot of single family residential context around the university.   Like the FNA’s precedent design manual, the  JPNA NPZ design manual may not insure  the kind of protection they want, so they becoming more politically proactive.

Nonetheless, plans like the downtownLINKS, the streetcar plan,  the evolving downtown core district and others do exist and good things will happen as a result.  Its just time to extend our expertise to the issue of edges and transitions impacting many UA residential neighborhood assets that surround the University.   If no comprehensive edge vision occurs at all, these plans can take some of the pressure off neighborhoods by attracting density and infill housing around the 4 mile streetcar route and the downtownLINKS corridor.   Imagine how much greater an impact a community consensus could add.  That it positive attraction.   The University should know this, otherwise they wouldn’t talk about how important surrounding neighborhoods and  developers are to  their master plan.  The UA is also a key factor in this happening, so they need to speak out.  Downtown development has languished since its mid 20th century hey day.  The UA’s expansion plans downtown and support for infill housing development could possibly turn the tide.  Consider just the start of their plans;  a down down arena and  a downtown campus one block from the streetcar line.

As the visionary architect, Jaime Lerner, of Brazil’s City of  Curitiba puts it;  “It’s possible”  It’s possible for Tucson.  It’s possible for neighborhoods.  It’s possible for the U of A.  It’s just possible.

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Jefferson Park residents were pretty ticked off as they showed up in impressive numbers, Friday evening, January 7th, 2010, to protest another destruction of a single family home in its university area neighborhood.  It is an ongoing saga.   The Star published a piece entitled:  In Jefferson Park, It’s About Greed, Not Student Tenants. Neighborhoods would like to stop the development of mini dorms which is a reason for recent demolitions in Jefferson Park and Feldmans neighborhoods.  In September, Feldmans lost one of  last remaining examples of  a classic stone craftsman bungalow.   What is driving all of this, is the economic reality of students wanting to rent near to the University.  Meeting these needs is profitable now and its done in a vacuum of broader planning and leadership in preservation.  Meanwhile, the City of Tucson and the University of Arizona are losing significant pieces of  a residential fabric that speaks of a waning asset; a  diminishing  reason for wanting to live around the University.  Are we losing?   Jefferson Park is the second attempt in two years  at creating a design manual to activate a recent ordinance called the Neighborhood Protection Zone (NPZ).   Developer’s see the City’s efforts as a fairy tale.  The problem is that  proposition 207 strips the ability of an Arizona jurisdiction to put teeth into any planning ordinances enacted after 2006.  This is the context in which remedies are sought and have stumped City officials.   Karen Uhlich, Jefferson Park’s Ward Representative said in her latest ward 3 newsletter; …”In recent weeks my office has received countless pleas for City intervention from areas zoned R1 where existing small homes are being demolished in preparation for the construction of mini-dorms.  Residents clearly expect the City to ramp up our efforts to challenge this infill trend”…    It’s difficult for people to see  hope in  ward 3’s response.  They know that the issue is not new to Uhlich’s office.  U of A neighborhoods need a much bigger look at  planning and incentives on a scale not yet undertaken by the City of Tucson, moreover, the City, paralyzed by its own budget crisis and inability to focus on the problem has simply not taken this on, other than in ways  we know have no teeth or significant  incentive.  Pressure put the fire under the feet of the Mayor and Council to heat up commercial development incentives  downtown.  That much and more can be done for university area neighborhoods as well.

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Tucson is considering a Downtown Entertainment District The proposal is now in draft form, depicting boundaries for an entertainment district which would exempt the 300′ buffer from charter schools and churches from businesses obtaining liquor licenses.   A city of 500,000 population or more can have (3) districts in the State of Arizona.   That draft proposal outlines edges along U of A and Downtown historic neighborhoods.   It stands to provide another incentive for business and downtown revitalization along with other proposal like the Downtown Core District proposed by the Land Use Code Committee, the Downtown LINKS project and others.  One study that is an citizen based idea for incentives for contextual residential areas that surround the U of A and Downtown is the Urban University Edge Study It is in the form of a draft map of potential boundaries for a residential based housing and commercial incentive edge zones to benefit U of A historic neighborhoods, the U of A, downtown and 4th Avenue

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The April 15th Issue of the Tucson Weekly talks about a shifting paradigm along the edges of urbanization as building proposals interface with old Tucson neighborhoods.  The Old and the New by Dave Devine is a preview into what’s coming and what neighborhoods really to think hard about; its edges along the university and downtown.  Strong edges and definitive transition guidelines can ultimately strengthen neighborhoods and preserve their interiors.

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Downtown LINKS is a project that will create “LINKS” between Barraza-Aviation Parkway and Interstate 10, Broadway Boulevard and the 4th Avenue shopping district, and Downtown.  It is a project of,  Poster Frost MirtoPlease comment. This is one of several planning efforts to make downtown an inviting destination.  Visit the downtown LINKS site for more detail.

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