Archive for the ‘Preservation’ Category

Tucson’s urban university core is full of rich old neighborhoods that are both victims of unplanned growth and advocates for preservation.  The larger picture of preservation is the context that make these neighborhoods an urban refuge for family living environments which is worth preserving.   As student housing demands migrate closer to the university, neighborhoods must make  choices between orderly housing blocks,  located along the right activity corridors or random  unplanned group homes and defacto apartment compounds.  The choice is clear and neighborhood edges with the right underlying zoning can be legitimate candidates for housing density near a major university.  How do we plan this?  One problem that vocal critics of planning like West University Neighborhood, is that there is no enforceable plan to insure a compatible transition to their interior.  The closest document is the U of A area plan which is only suggestive and some infill overlays along the edges which have angered home owners and do not work correctly.  Another problem is no voice of consensus.   Tucson lacks a University Area Housing Body or Commission that would be that voice of reason to influence the right planning decisions.  Developers are frustrated because they feel neighborhoods want to save everything and won’t make choices.  Some developers proliferate controversial “mini-dorms”.  Feldmans Neighborhood  is a case history.  It has essentially lost its north half to this new context of group homes and had an opportunity in 1997 to be an HPZ.   Jefferson Park Neighborhood is also threatened.  West University is protected by its Historic zoning overlay, the HPZ,  which can’t be used in new areas because of prop. 207, but it’s edges are an ongoing issue.   The logical direction is for mayor and council to appoint a specific commission that can make the tough decisions about specific planning omissions,  adopt residential and commercial edge incentive plans, guide a re-write for university area plan and  embed key language and references into the upcoming Tucson General Plan scheduled for public referendum before 2015.


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The following commentary is worth listening to.  Bob Schlanger is calling out for a body of individuals to take on a regional plan for residential areas surrounding the University of Arizona.  This would not be unlike the Tucson Planning Commission which the Mayor and Council have consistently relied upon to guide general planning objectives and their outcome in greater Tucson.  Tucson has plenty of commissions, but what has been lacking is a commission to specifically take on the future of residential areas surrounding the U of A and lapping into the downtown area where the University is also expanding.  Please view this commentary on you-tube right here:    Bob Schlanger’s commentary Preserving the Tucson Lifestyle – YouTube.  For further insight into what has happened to one neighborhood that illustrates this problem, please view another you-tube video by Joan Hall, also, a Jefferson Park Neighborhood resident.  

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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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“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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University Area Single Family Living and Tucson’s R-1 Zoning Determination – What Does It Mean?

With the real estate still struggling, pressure to acquire and raze U of A area vintage dwellings and turn them into two-story rentals is pretty hot.  Demolitions are common.  Developers know the value of property near the U of A.  Student group homes are going up as fast as they can be leased.   While U of A area homeowners continue to languish, the University, conversely,  has a different vision about off campus student housing.  The University of Arizona has been working with private housing developers to insure appropriate off campus housing occur in the right places and is supportive of their off-campus mission, which we would all benefit from knowing more about.  U of A planners see major sustainable urban housing statements along nearby edges and linkages, i.e., the street car linkage, downtownLINKS, Rio Nuevo, downtown…  Yet, amidst this market battle to capture the demand for housing in the best way, the U of A’s  focus also begs acknowledgment and a want for vibrant family oriented communities surrounding campus, offering something that nothing else can.  Deep down, I think U of A area homeowners want the University to win this unintended fight, but sentiments continue to be  loss and frustration as  the counter intuitive  group home phenomena seems to be going viral.   Jefferson Park Neighborhood (JPNA) continues to be slammed by alleged zoning abuses and has been crying for enforcement.  You can see their frustration in the Weekly’s piece,  Mini-Dorm Vigil in Jefferson Park. Feldman’s Neighborhood Association  (FNA) is another area hit even harder as half of the old neighborhood is effectively gone and quite a few more properties are targeted for re-development on 1st Avenue, Euclid and Helen Street, just west of Euclid Avenue.   Consequently, the City of Tucson is wincing over a claim for 3.2 million dollars if FNA’s design manual interferes.

After months of research, formal complaints and determination requests from JPNA, the City of Tucson responded on March 14th to an obvious question; what is R-1?  The Zoning Administrator  provided a bold description of what R-1 and presumably R-2  is and that  is not great news for some rental uses.  So, on with the battle for what constitutes a “single” family.  CLICK for a pdf version of the determination.  So, one must wonder, will this ruling preserve the real intended use within single family zones and how many appeals and lawsuits will it have to weather.  It is hard to imagine the financial punishment this could be to all of us, but it is gathering press:  Tucson Weekly: Ruling:  Mini Dorms Are… , Koz & Mini-Dorms…, MIni-Dorms: Ulich vs. Koz., Tucson Citizen.com: Mini-dorm controversy, thread…, The Star:  City Needs to Stand Up… The issue will  certainly heat up.  You can also check out Arizona Illustrated.    We will keep you posted.

The City of Tucson’s determination is gutsy and faces a serious test and not the least, the distinct possibility of  enforcement.   Albeit, a day late and dollar short, it is at least an inconvenient truth that begs action from every  leadership spectrum about the future of an urban university district.   Getting caught short-sighted is obvious, and the City of Tucson has its work cut out on this one.  The good news is, we have a good excuse to do something. What do people want? What does the City want?  What does the University want?   What do stakeholders want?  What can everyone agree on?…  Consensus, commissions, plans, visions, manuals, community forums, incentives, enabling overlays, sub-overlays, infill districts, urban districts, and so on,  always skirt around the subject of  understanding housing around the University.  Since, the real estate crash, city leadership has been pro-active with business districts downtown.    Now its time for U of A residential zones to have a spotlight.   Hopefully, a very inconvenient answer to an old problem will be a catalyst for something good to happen.

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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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