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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    New tricks to curb an old problem

    Imagine being woken up at 2 a.m. by what you perceive, at first, to be an all night circus at the end of your block. Upon investigating, you realize that the noise down the street is not coming from a large multicolored tent, but rather your new neighbors.

    Welcome to the world of Bob Schlanger, a 25-year resident of Jefferson Park, a neighborhood north of the UA.

    “”I can’t stand being woken up in the early hours of the morning by 75 college kids at the end of the block hooting and hollering, throwing beer cans in my front lawn,”” Schlanger said. “”I don’t dislike students in general, but at least 10 percent of them are rotten bastards.””

    Schlanger, the vice president of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, is not alone in his feelings of exasperation in regards to the late night antics of some Arizona students. Members of the Neighborhood Associations of Tucson are becoming increasingly concerned with the growing level of mini-dorm development that is bringing more students to their neighborhoods.

    “”The real problem isn’t the students, but rather developers who tear down homes and replace them with cookie cutter housing for students,”” Schlanger said. “”The core neighborhoods of Tucson have historic value and were traditionally single family homes. I am trying to keep it that way.””

    The Neighborhood Associations of Tucson, composed primarily of the owner-occupants of the central Tucson neighborhoods, are currently in the process of designing building manuals that will regulate the size and design of new structures.

    By creating a preservation manual that restricts developers from building higher occupancy structures, owner occupants are hoping to curb the development of high-density student housing that they believe detracts from the appeal of their neighborhood.

    Diana Lett, the vice president of the Feldman Neighborhood Association, stressed that students generally do not present a problem, however when developers build housing that accommodates a large number of students, things can get out of hand.

    “”When developers build new housing close together, there is constant partying and trash from balconies,”” Lett said. “”Many older homes are being torn down and replaced with large student housing that creates a sense of architectural disparity.””

    The design manual that Feldman Neighborhood is currently in the process of writing, would restrict builders from constructing two story homes with balconies, and will require that developers submit their building designs to an independent review conducted by a city-appointed designer.

    The designer’s job will be to make sure that all future construction projects maintain the historic street front of the area and won’t contribute to privacy violations.

    While developers acknowledged it is hard to argue against Lett and Schlanger’s claim that late-night partying detracts from a peaceful living environment, developers pointed out that the interests of student renters, who make up a large percentage of the community, are going unnoticed.

    “”The city’s Neighborhood Protection Ordinance allows a small minority of politically-active owners to regulate how anyone else can build in the area,”” said Richard Studwell, a former administrator in the city’s Building Codes Division and a current developer. “”The majority of residents are being left out of the decision-making process.””

    In Feldman Neighborhood, a recent survey showed that only 23 percent of homes are occupied by owner-occupants, who currently occupy every chair on the Feldman Neighborhood Association’s Council.

    Rental property developers pointed out additional problems with the proposed design manuals for neighborhoods around the university. Chief among their concerns is that a specific building code that regulates height, maximum square footage and design equates to higher construction costs that make it more expensive to build housing for students. “”The Neighborhood Associations are trying to keep developers from building large enough rental units to make them profitable,”” said Mike Goodman, a principal developer in the area.

    Jefferson Park Resident Jared Hudson’s expressed concern over being able to find affordable housing close to the university in the future.

    “”I can barely afford my rent as it is,”” said Hudson, a mathematics senior. “”I like having my own house close to campus, and I don’t want to move three miles away.””

    While Hudson’s concern is a common problem among university students, the neighborhood associations maintain that there are plenty of alternative housing options for university students, and the destruction of older homes for new student housing is unjustified.

    “”As long as vacant lots and troubled commercial properties on arterials exist, I don’t think that the destruction of historic homes for new developments should even be a question,”” Lett said.

    On the other hand, developers view the neighborhood associations’ attempts to regulate building as being detrimental to the interests of the vast majority of the community. “”Students want affordable housing close to where they go to school,”” Goodman said. “”Owner-occupants are reacting emotionally to not wanting students to move into the neighborhoods.””

    Several attempts have been made by the city to mediate the conflict between owner occupants and developers, however they have so far been of little success. In 2008, the Tucson City Council gave the green light for the creation of a downtown-area Infill Incentive District (IID) that provides tax cuts to developers who are willing to build adjacent to downtown rather than in neighborhoods around the university.

    However, only limited construction has been started in the incentive district.

    “”The Infill Incentive District meanders through shitty neighborhoods and warehouses where no students want to live,”” Studwell said. “”Who would want their 18-year-old daughter living on Stone Avenue?””

    Developers like Studwell and Goodman see only one solution to the problem. “”Unless the unaware landlords get together and protest with the student population, the students will be paying more for rent,”” Goodman said.

    The council maintained that students have shown little interest in neighborhood politics to date.

    “”We have tried to set up meetings with students and they ignore us,”” Lett said.

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