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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Steve Kozachik balances roles between UA and Tucson

Addison Shinn

City council member and associate director of Athletics Facilities & Capital Projects Steve Kozachik talks in an interview with The Daily Wildcat in his Ward 6 office on Sept. 8. Kozachik shares his thoughts on the potential building of the new honors complex on campus.

Having two full-time jobs can be exhausting. Added responsibilities, additional commute, extra strain on family — all told, it can make pulling double duty nearly impossible. A normal person might be able to make it work for a while, but Steve Kozachik has made it work for nearly a decade.

If the city’s August primary elections are any indicator, Kozachik should be on his way toward a decade of dual service as the Ward 6 Representative on Tucson’s City Council and an Associate Athletic Director at the University of Arizona, where he oversees facilities and capital projects.

The rebel

Since his election in 2009, Kozachik has been a mainstay in city politics. Although he identifies himself as liberal, his party allegiance has not always aligned with his politics.

“One of the reasons I changed parties in 2013 was because the Republican Party in this state is going so far to the right that it just doesn’t reflect what I stand for anymore,” he said. “A lot of it had to do with gun legislation and social issues.”

While the GOP’s platform on social issues gave Kozachik pause, the final push that led him to leave the party involved a City of Tucson-sponsored gun buy-back that he organized in 2012. Push-back to the event was “pretty intense and pretty immediate,” Kozachik said.

“I’m not anti-gun,” he said. “I own a couple of guns. That is not what this was about. It was about if you have personal property, the police fully support the notion of, if people don’t want guns, let’s get them out of circulation.”

RELATED: Honors complex inches forward

With the gun buy-back episode behind him, Kozachik finds his present focus split between his day job at the UA and moonlighting with the city. After going through a litany of meetings and committees each day, Kozachik likes to reflect. 

“I get home seven nights a week at 10 or 10:30 p.m.,” he said. “So, it’s two full-time jobs, and you can’t do either of them justice by treating either of them as part-time.”

And the project that seems to be consuming more and more of his time, both in Ward 6 and at the UA, is the new Honors College Complex.

Honor thy neighborhood association

While living in Ward 6 for more than 20 years, Kozachik ingrained himself in the community. When he talks about his upcoming election race, he frames topics in terms of “Tucson values.”

It’s little wonder then that Kozachik has taken a pro-city stance on the most pressing issue facing Ward 6: the proposed Honors College Complex. The complex will sit on three square blocks at the intersection of Drachman Street and Fremont Avenue, right on the edge of the Ward 6 boundary.

A private company, American Campus Communities, acquired several parcels and made a pitch to the neighborhood in hopes of constructing a 1,600 bed, privately run dormitory back in 2013.

Diana Lett, a nearby homeowner and president of the Feldman’s Neighborhood Association, said neighborhood opposition to the project seemed to quash the idea. 

“They got some pushback saying, ‘You know, this is too much, it’s not appropriate for the area,’” she said.

But according to Kozachik, ACC changed its tactics after running into neighborhood resistance. 

“We find what they have done is they approached the UA and said, ‘We will give you our land, and we will build you our dorm on it,’” he said.

The reason for ACC to transfer the land to the UA is to sidestep city zoning laws, Lett said. Under Arizona state law, a state entity like the UA is exempt from municipal zoning processes, allowing ACC to bypass Tucson regulation.

If it weren’t for Kozachik, Lett might not have caught wind of the project. 

“He actually was the person who let me know what was happening, before the UA went public with it,” Lett said.

RELATED: City Council looks to have greater involvement in honors complex development

For Koz, that’s just part of the job. “I’m never going to keep info from my consituents,” he said.

For her part, Lett finds two problems with the complex: First, since the neighborhood is currently zoned as one- or two-story residential houses, she said the added density the project will bring is incompatible with the current make-up of the neighborhood. Second, in her view, the UA has sidestepped the neighboring communities in the process. 

“They decided they were not going to participate in our city’s rezoning process, our city’s citizen participation process,” she said.

Paul Durham, a former corporate attorney and Democrat running to represent Ward 6 on the City Council, said he has heard both sides from neighborhood residents.

“At a recent event, I ran into another neighbor of the project, and she said, ‘Oh it’s a great project,’” he said.

Both Kozachik and Lett worry about the precedent such a move would set. 

“I didn’t buy my house on Campbell [Avenue] and Grant [Road] expecting a 1,500-bed student dorm to go in next to me,” Kozachik said, “or a strip mall, or a strip club.”

Though Lett calls the land-swap “a done deal,” the Arizona Board of Regents will vote to approve the deal Sept. 29.

If pushed, Lett is leaving the door open for a lawsuit — just not from her. 

“I’ve thought about it, but the reality is, that’s really expensive,” she said. 

Instead, she said there could be a case for the city against the UA.

“The argument is, if you’re using the land for any other purpose than academic purposes, then it is taxable,” she said. “I am not an attorney, but I can foresee there might still be legal action going forward on part of this.”

But Kozachik remains hopeful. After nearly a decade with the city and almost 30 years at the UA, perspective has a way of shading his perception for the better.

“We’ll look at it and determine whether they have moved pieces around sufficiently so that we don’t have the basis to litigate,” he said, an option he would prefer to avoid. “And if we do, we do, and if we don’t, we don’t.”

Follow Eddie Celaya on Twitter

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