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Talk upThe pursuit of happiness is an important right in the declaration of independence.  As it turns out,  there is more to it than just a  phrase in the 1776 document.  Now, that notion is a recognized measurable gauge of community and individual well-being.   How this relates to our pursuit of better process in planning Tucson’s core is the measure of social capital necessary for effective and harmonious  action.   Anita Fonte talks about that in her new book, Talk Up Tucson: An Exploration of Community Happiness and Prosperity,  The book focuses on an internationally known  concept that links levels of happiness and prosperity to our well being.  The book reflects on Anita’s  Tucson experience and the work of her company, Community Renaissance.   Following consulting work with Kimley-Horn and the RTA,  she decided to write.  From talking and meeting with community leaders and people in Tucson’s development world she published comments and conclusions that gauge our social capital in building a more inclusive process thereby, more “happiness” for everyone.   Her book is available at Antigone Books and Mostly Books

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACORE BaNC (Core Barrio and Neighborhood Coalition)  hosted a public forum on the Infill Incentive District Overlay at the Ward 6 office on May 28th.  Adam Smith crafted a great response to a set of questions given before hand.  The IID has only had 10 projects as of May 2013.  Some are enormous and a majority are more inconsequential.  A resonating factor that has neighborhoods wanting to opt their boundaries out of the district focuses on perceived failures in transitioning from large projects to a sensitive neighborhood context.  If there is one factor that will make or break the IID concept, it is these transitions.  Continue Reading »

Screen shot 2013-05-30 at 12.32.46 PM“Projects are…dashing existing neighborhood character under the banners of smart growth or transit oriented development…they fail in many of the finer points of smart growth… UrbDeZine…read more in  10 Rules for Smarter Smart Growth  link by J. Hall

Screen shot 2013-05-30 at 9.42.45 AMA 3rd city-neighborhoods meeting at the Community Resource Campus on May 6th, 2013 ended on a low note.  Neighborhood leaders grilled staff with questions intended to bolster their voice in the planning process.   These meetings originated with Pro Neighborhood’s final 2012 funded project; a year-long symposium of process exploration hosted by Jefferson Park NHA.  View their White Paper.    Q@A was directed to staff comprising four topics; neighborhood input, neighborhood support, transparency and new student housing projects.  The sticking point was “neighborhood input”.  Staff sounded stuck in a familiar box and neighborhood leaders wanted ideas.  So, as the inquiry moves forward later in the Summer, the focus will be on how to push staff outside the proverbial box. 

Two more things to think about are Plan Tucson and a new impact fee program.  Plan Tucson is completing it’s public process.  Read chapter 4, planning implementation.  It mandates new specific plan updates of area and neighborhood plans.  The assistant city manager has used the term “village plans”.  These can consolidate neighborhood plans.  Its a good thing only if neighborhood leaders are deep in the process.

Look for a new impact fee program.  Regarding SB1525, the City must re-write their  impact fee program allocation to be more specific to benefit districts with tighter use criteria.  There is a chance that may work for neighborhoods, but it is another process that needs neighborhood advocacy.   A smarter impact fee structure coupled with a proactive investment strategy is another possibility in planning that could deal with transitions in high impact areas between mega dorms and neighborhoods.

Screen shot 2013-04-11 at 8.10.31 PMPALOLO SOLERI (June 21, 1919 – April 9, 2013).  Now, with only his legacy and futuristic forms in our memory, Paolo Soleri’s contributions will be live on internationally.  His concepts will be  moved forward by new generations of Architects and Planners.   His work is an important force in the shape of future human settlements.  He was known for bold ecological forms and a revolutionary design concept he called Arcology His legacy will be impacting as futuristic minded planners seek the right answers to what sustainable urban habitat is.  27 years ago I attended one of several weekend  seminars at Arcosanti  to further understand arcology.  An account of one of Soleri’s seminars was published in Solar Earth Builder Magazine:  Arcosanti Solar Greenhouse, A Hope for The Future.  

A polar opposite of modern building and planning stereotypes, Arcosanti was known as “philosophy in action”.   It soared beyond a pure philosophical proposalArcosanti and Soleri’s nearby residence compound at Cosanti gave architectural substance to his ideas.  Soleri perfected the notion of sustainability before it was a household buzzword.  He is the Frank Lloyd Wright of sustainable urban form.  His work will guide future studies of habitat in a challenging era of global warming and critical urban design problems.

Main GateLast May 2012, the Main Gate Urban Overlay District (UOD) saw its first major building permit, a 35 million dollar high-rise student housing project. That set the path for the Main Gate overlay district and painted a disappointing picture of what a UOD looks like to neighborhood sustainability.  Overlays aren’t new.  Tucson has been using zoning overlays as planning tools for decades.  An original overlay, the Historic Preservation Zone is well liked.  The newest one, the Main Gate Urban Overlay District became an icon to mistrust in public process.  City planners passed a UOD fast track enabling ordinance in 2010.  Its reasons were mixed.  Infill conditions for a 63 million dollar federal streetcar grant was one.  Other reasons are downtown infill, a needed warehouse district, a desire to add density along arterial edges and the fallout of the deepest real estate recession since 1929.  Click here to view the rest of the article.

The District on 5th

$$$Before a quick update,  review “The District on 5th” @ about 50% complete just 14 months ago.   The District on 5th and Neighborhoods.   It has since flipped a record profit.   Some say that is a big success for investor wealth building.  Can this be a success for neighborhoods as our City leaves millions on the table in development concessions; a 60% slash in sewer fees being just one.   For more discussion, read the commentary in a recent piece:  A Core Neighborhood Plan.   Depending on whether you want to make money here or live here, your opinion will vary 180 degrees.  Home-owner occupancy continues to decline near UA related development, because of this.  So, the question of how we create a sustainable core residential ( R1 and R2)  environment in this context is a challenge that has yet to be faced…and it never quit being about money.

Screen shot 2013-03-14 at 10.39.36 PMStephen Paul and Demion Clinco, featured in Wednesday’s Star call for a design approach to the onslaught on Tucson’s historic core in the feature, Design Guidelines Needed to Protect Character of Tucson’s Historical Core.  The image embed of The Junction @ Iron Horse is not what they are calling for, but like other new housing projects with modern curb appeal, it is context insensitive.   These projects give us taxes, but unfortunately they promote divestment in homeowner occupancy.  The post real estate crash era inspired a lot of business incentives, but nothing for neighborhoods.  Guidelines are easy and necessary but can they turn things around those of us who want to live here?  How about  sustainable  planning with incentives to help insure owner occupancy is a safe investment.  How about something in return for the lucrative zoning incentives we give to commercial ventures.  The Infill Incentive District alone allows as much as 25% more in zoning allowances than base zoning such as in The District at 5thThe Main Gate Urban Overlay District offers as much as a 400% increase in heights.  These make money but are lost opportunities for neighborhoods. When zoning can’t be trusted, homeowners move.  That’s a price that has not been a factor in planning the core.  What if for every 20 million dollars in value added zoning opportunities we grant developers, a million of it has to be re-invested in neighborhoods.  If value compounding zoning incentives within the core totaled 500 million dollars from 2008 to 2018 that would be 25 million dollars in neighborhood reinvestment. How much additional investment in neighborhoods would that generate?  Since the crash we did incentivize roughly 20% of that but with no equation for trade off investing that directly benefit neighborhoods.  We know development will come, but how should we channel it in and around sensitive old neighborhoods that are worth keeping.

IGT (Imagine a Greater Tucson) is a desire for greatness, but is it any more than just a wish?  Will it be Tucson’s voice?  Will it be a voice of planning reason as Tucson moves into its future?   For an update on the IGT results, view their website.  http://www.imaginegreatertucson.org/what-is-igt/  As the IGT project comes to completion, we can look back at over two years of community work.   Last May, 2012, at the College of Architecture, Urbanist and  Architect, Corky Poster brought up some good things in a defining keynote address.  He discussed alternative modes of transportation, surgically installed density sectors, form based building design, planned housing @ IGT densities and neighborhood respect…  Click here to read the rest of this article.  

The Broadway Corridor plan is undergoing evaluation by the Broadway Task Force in an effort adjust the scope to something that fits Broadway.  It is a long-delayed plan with many completed commercial building acquisitions.  These structures are tagged for demolition and damage business incentive along a key stretch of Broadway.   It is a long standing problem.   View the full article  in Demolition Dilemma,Tucson Weekly by Tim Vanderpool.

Clickable information link:  Sun Link Tucson Streetcar Update

Imagine Getting Compacted

“Imagine Greater Tucson (IGT) released the results of its 2-year study, Looking Forward, A Vision for a Greater Tucson Region.   PlanTucson is winding up its citizen participation phase of the City’s writing of a new General Plan for the coming ten-year period.  I would expect that City staff will be looking at the IGT document as one source of data to consider.  One of IGT’s nine principles is Quality Neighborhoods.   On p. 19, eight values for them are listed.  The three I find most relevant to mid-town, and, therefore, most in need of specific clarification, are…” Ruth Beeker.    CLICK on Imagine Getting Compacted to read the rest of Ruth’s article.   Many believe that the IGT and Plan Tucson are generalized goals.  In the eyes of core neighborhood leaders, the correct vision has to emerge from their impacted communities. Pro Neighborhoods a long time Tucson  community foundation was victim of recent budget cuts.  It’s last funded project is a Neighborhood Symposium Project; presented by Jefferson Park Neighborhood.  It’s panel presentation is set for January 26th, 2013.  The focus is on neighborhoods and a strong voice of direction in their future.  The next planning meeting is on Monday, October 29th, 7pm, at the  International School of Tucson, 1701 E Seneca.

The RTA’s website:  sunLINK

The streetcar is beginning to look a bit like revitalization.  Click on the link for a Daily Wildcat Summary of development.  According to the Downtown Tucson Partnership, between 2008 and 2013 roughly  600 million has either been spent or committed to development in the core with perhaps much more to come.  That’s hopeful, because taxes on that development will be needed to cover the  public  subsidy the street car and maybe a little more.  Ridership was never intended to cover its cost density.  It was intended to exist in a deficit.   As surrounding historic neighborhood become impacted by overlapping commercial, how will they hang on to their residential flavor.  How do they become magnets for preservation and serve as a poetic counterbalance to commercial exuberance?   How do we make downtown not only a fun place to play, but a great place to live?

Broadway or Bust

Poignant concerns with the RTA and  public process can be viewed in the Tucson Weekly’s Broadway or Bust, Tim Vanderpool.  August 30th marks the 3rd meeting of the Broadway Task Force.  The public meeting is 2800 E. Broadway, 5:30 to 8:30.  The task group is intent on a sensible and timely revision to an overly zealous plan.  See also Voters Against RTA Widening of Broadway

CAMPUS ACQUISITIONS scores a win over public process.  Tucson’s mayor and council chambers was packed with angry neighborhood residents who watched their elected officials favor a Chicago based student housing developer over  their plea to downscale the development and most likely lose the project which Tucson’s development stakeholders did not want.    Many core neighborhood associations supported WUNA’s  alternative plan, but it didn’t look like a design issue.  It doesn’t even look like public process for that matter.  Forty five years and counting,  a divide and conquer strategy has worked for developers and planners;  one neighborhood at a time.  Maybe that tide is shifting now as neighborhoods react to what they see as a planning coup.  The Main Gate Urban Overlay District Zoning was adopted following  a historically quick notification and meeting process with a small handful of WUNA residents.  Under the pressure of a deep economic recession, came an almost a unanimous approval by Mayor and Council, save for Councilwoman Uhlich.   Old neighborhoods have suffered serious attrition in the past and this certainly continues that unfortunate reality.  On February 28th, 2011, historic neighborhoods were shut up again.        

The August 23rd Overlay Seminar was a rundown of  bullet points outlining 6 overlay topics.   You can download the following power point pdf files by clicking on the titles:  1) Legal limitations 2)  Downtown Links  3) Grant Road  4) Main Gate District  5) Urban Overlay District and  6) Infill Incentive District.  Representatives from Pima County, Marana, Oro Valley and Suarita also summarized their experience with overlays.  Community acceptance to zoning overlays was acknowledged by City Planner, Jim Mazzocco as an area in need of serious work.  He stressed that streamlining the Main Gate Overlay was something he would not want to repeat and pointed to DowntownLINKS as a better model.  The Main Gate District worked for business interests but not local residents.  A poignant moment in the seminar was a partnered presentation by  Neighborhood leader Ruth Beeker and Developer Jim Campbell.  They spoke on the right planning,  failures in the Main Gate Overlay public process, and a need for plans that afford certainty and predictability to residents and developers.  The core of Tucson is under pressure and planning areas targeted for rezoning overlays is necessary whether it is a two year specific overlay district planning process or part of a broader master plan.  Either way, communities need to be deep in a process free of pressure.

Overlays are not a new term.  Tucson has a dozen major overlay designations including sub-districts.  Recent use of opt-in rezoning overlays are a new phenomena and the Main Gate UOD (Urban Overlay District) is the first of its kind.  Unlike our protective other overlays, UOD’S have rapid and significant impact to existing zoning.  The urban overlay enabling ordinance was set up in 2010 and allowed the Main Gate District to be streamlined.  That flew in the face of public process.  The biggest omission was a plan with community acceptance.  Under pressure to justify the the modern street car, the City did retain a consultant for a specific plan for this UOD.  Although, rejected by core neighborhoods, the plan was adopted under protest.  Public Process was a casualty and the district’s first highrise building permit was issued while being legally challenged.  See Arizona Court of Appeals.

Amidst the fallout of the August 7th amendment, frustration was evident in Councilman Kozachik’s ward 6 newsletter article, Issue of Trust.pdf   Misconceptions persisted with Wards two, four and five, representing a minority of registered Tucson neighborhoods. See also the  Main Gate Overlay and Public ProcessThe August 7th amendment was intended to repair process and restore community trust by pulling out a small corner of the UOD for reconsideration of heights and historic preservation.  Any community consensus that emerged from that effort was effectively destroyed by 4 of the 7 votes in favor of adding three more stories to two privately owned lots.  West University filed a complaint with the State Attorney General over the open meeting law.  See KGUN News coverage  The Main Gate is now a lesson in community relations of what not to do, leaving many asking what a better process will look like.

UA-area residents denounce city vote  Darren DaRonco,  Arizona Daily Star

“In a stunning setback for city council members Steve Kozachik and Karin Uhlich, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild on Tuesday broke a 3-3 tie at the City Council in favor of developers of a Main Gate Area property. Rothschild voted for a surprise deal on building height that gave the developers an extra 40 feet, up to 130 feet.  The off-stage deal was only announced when a developer mentioned it in remarks to the council shortly before the vote, saying the proposed 90-foot limit set for a vote, which appeared almost a sure-thing, would not provide enough financial benefits.
”I vote yes,” the mayor said….”   Read more in WUNA NEWS      The motion becomes law after 30 days unless a yes voter asks for a new vote and since it was not a super majority vote.  The focus of the motion refers to a small corner of the Main Gate Overlay called “The Discussion Area”.  What is a concern to public process is that  mayor and council are using overlays to give away new zoning along the edges of already stressed out core neighborhoods without their backing.  The urban planning of our core neighborhoods is a community process.  Predicating its results on the basis of personal gain not only subverts this process, but encourages errors in judgement and placement of new zoning.  Neighborhood leaders are calling for a core neighborhoods commission to give neighborhoods a proper voice in their planning future.  After this M&C meeting, what we see as public process does not look credible.  How do yo re-build that trust?  Here are some opposite views from two councilmen.   Read Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik’s analysis by viewing  Main Gate Development.pdf   and view Paul Cunningham’s opinion in Ward 2 viewpoint    A point to consider in determining who the motion represents  is that wards 2, 4 and 5 voted yes and wards 1, 3, and 6 voted no.  The yes vote wards do not represent core-neighborhoods and contain slightly over  1/3 of Tucson’s registered neighborhoods.  See for yourself in this map:   Tucson NHA’s.pdf    The wards that carry 2/3’s of Tucson’s 187 registered neighborhoods are within the core area and do not want a breach of public process.  An anomaly to this is that Councilman Fimbres, does represent the balance  of “core neighborhoods” and south-side barrios which are ward 5.  His vote does not.  

MPA & ULI – Overlay Seminar (link)   The date is Thursday,  August 23rd.  This event is for representatives of local jurisdictions, private planners, architects, designers, developers, and neighborhood representatives.  Sponsored by the MPA (Metropolitan Pima Alliance) and the ULI  (Urban Land Institute)

Despite the Main Gate District  laying in wait for a ruling on whether the Supreme Court will hear West University’s petition rejection, the City of Tucson is set to hear final recommendations for  a small corner of Speedway and Euclid; “the discussion area”.   This is the outline for Tuesday’s M&C public hearing at 260 S. Church (TCC), estimated time:  6:30 (public agenda items start @ 5:30) –  LINK:  MGD Public Meeting Recommendation.pdf.   The rest of the overlay district is untouched as the first highrise was permitted.pdf and in construction.   The discussion area recommendations given to M&C  offer a small lowering in heights and an exclusion area for bungalows.  The overlay is recommended to be excluded for a half dozen historic dwellings along Euclid.  Sadly, the plan may place them in a state of limbo making them unattractive for preservation investment.  Historic bungalows along the Speedway Portion are recommended to remain in the overlay, effectively insuring their removal for more valuable new MGD multi-story zoning rights.  West University and the Historic Commission do not support the Speedway portion.  One can only wonder about the fate of the Euclid dwellings.  A bold option would have been to turn the corner into a public improvement, acquire the historic houses, and tax the highrise(s) for the cost to restore and re-purpose them.  Your input is encouraged at the Tuesday night meeting.

2012 RTA Media Coverage.  The $2.1 billion Regional Transportation Authority plan was approved by Pima County voters on May 16, 2006.  You can download and view the RTA’s publicity brochure.  Regional Mobility 04/2012 (PDF)   It touches on its major plans from 2006 to 2026.   The RTA has been under scrutiny for its over reaching scope regarding the widening of several significant planned roadways including Broadway, Grant, and 22nd St.  You can view a piece of that controversy in Voters Against RTA Widening of Broadway  Tucson’s modern street car,  SunLINK, is an RTA transit project that has big impact on the UA, downtown and 4th Avenue, where construction will continue past mid 2013.  Here is a schedule update on that.  Tucson Modern Streetcar Construction Update.   See also Sun LINK media coverage.

Arizona Court of Appeals hearing on the City of Tucson’s rejection of citizens petitions to repeal the Main Gate Overlay  View also a written summary in Court of Appeals : WUNA (pdf)     

June 22nd update –  The Court of appeals ruled against the appeal.  The Supreme Court has been asked to review this ruling.  The submittal by West University’s attorney can be viewed here:   Petition For Review

Recap of Rio Nuevo

You can view a sort of fox in the hen house historical re-cap of Rio Nuevo to date, in:   A Historic Recap of Rio Nuevo.  Also view Steve Kozachik’s latest summary in his Media Release.pdf   and the Daily Star’s latest update in Rio Nuevo Audit Finds Questionable Spending of $33.8M….and as a matter facts, the blog, poco bravo’s take on the  MLK Apartments….