Student Housing for Franklin/Stone Hits a City Council Road Block

September 14, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Dust off the 2004 Warehouse Arts District Master Plan.

The city council wants to start from scratch to figure out what should be built on this lot across from the Steinfeld Warehouse (rear).

It will apparently be the template for what ultimately gets built on city-owned property bounded by Stone Avenue, Franklin Street, 9th Avenue and 6th Street. This is the former railroad loading dock across from the Steinfeld Warehouse.

The City Council unanimously allied itself with warehouse artists and surrounding neighborhoods at its Sept. 11 meeting to block Town West Development’s proposal to build student housing on those 4.3 acres that now serve as a city parking lot.

Council members invoked the warehouse master plan as they denied extending the retail, office, family dwelling and hotel zoning put in place for Town West on Nov. 27, 2007. The rezoning of this industrial land has a Nov. 26, 2012 expiration date if no development occurs by then.

The council’s 7-0 vote went counter to City Manager Richard Miranda’s recommendation to approve the zoning extension.

The council also gave clear signals the entire development agreement with Town West, also dated Nov. 27, 2007, may be doomed at a later date.

“Let’s clean up the process and start a new RFP (request for proposals),” said Council member Regina Romero, whose ward includes this property across from the Steinfeld Warehouse. “It is not what I or the stakeholders want to see developed at that site.”

Council member Steve Kozachik attended one of three recent stakeholder meeting where Town West and its joint venture partner Capstone Collegiate Communities described their desires to build a 750-unit student housing complex.

This was the railroad loading dock for Steinfeld until 1983. Since 2007, the city has had a development agreement with Town West Development for the dock and parking lot.

“What we saw in these PowerPoint presentations is not at all consistent with the warehouse master plan,” Kozachik said. “Let’s get some fresh proposals.”

The warehouse master plan has 13 goals, starting with “The Tucson Historic Warehouse Arts District shall be a center of incubation, production and exhibition of the arts.” Two other goals strive for “mixed uses” and that the district must be a “responsible neighbor, (working) closely with adjoining neighborhoods and districts to insure compatibility of design, circulation and activity.”

Town West Vice President and Principal Architect Raul Reyes had not comment following the council decision.

In an August interview, Town West President Jim Horvath said: “Everything is very preliminary right now. We hope to get out of the ground in March or April and have a completed project in July 2014. This is a project that can happen very quickly.”

The council agenda materials accompanying the zoning extension revolved around Town West’s 2007 El Mirador proposal to build three joined towers rising seven, 11 and 15 stories with about 235 hotel rooms, 150 condos and a brewpub. Town West had shelved El Mirador a couple years ago to focus on student housing.

Council members were concerned they were being asked to approve a zoning extension for a 2007 proposal that has been entirely changed since then.

“What we have in front of us tonight will not happen,” Romero said. “What has been presented to me is student housing in various iterations.”

This surprise City Council move essentially is an invitation to the Warehouse Arts Management Organization (WAMO), which implements the warehouse master plan, and surrounding neighborhoods (El Presidio, Dunbar/Spring, West University) to determine the future for that property.

“That site is crucial for completing the Warehouse Arts District,” said David Hoyt Johnson, president of the El Presidio Neighborhood Association. The property sits at the northeast corner of El Presidio.

It is a signature property for the Warehouse Arts District, which largely focuses on the Toole Avenue warehouses and the galleries at and near 6th Avenue and 6th Street. Whatever is built there would serve as a gateway to the district.

Marvin Shaver, a former WAMO president who will rejoin the WAMO board in October, believes that the decision of the Council will set the ball in motion for the future showpiece for the Warehouse Arts District.

“This means we’re going to start taking with our other partners to see what we can come up with that fits with the Warehouse District Master Plan,” Shaver said.