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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    City’s ruling halts minidorm developments

    Concerned citizen Theron Miller addresses the city council during a discussion about repealing a section of the Tucson Building Code concerning demolition in the Historic Central Core.
    Concerned citizen Theron Miller addresses the city council during a discussion about repealing a section of the Tucson Building Code concerning demolition in the Historic Central Core.

    A decision by the Tucson City Council Tuesday night could put UA-area “”minidorms”” in jeopardy.

    The City Council voted unanimously to repeal a previous ruling within the city’s demolition code and instead place the ruling within the land use code – a blow to developers who often bought out buildings, demolished them and replaced them with housing that typically was rented out to students.

    The developers must now yield to city officials to decide the fate of many of their downtown and UA-area properties.

    These projects, nicknamed “”minidorms,”” are developed by landlords to rent to students, and they have been an issue of debate for years.

    Ever since the Tucson City Council passed a regulation in June 2007 requiring property owners to submit historical information to the city before clearing and destroying buildings near downtown, some developers’ minidorm projects have been halted, the Council said.

    The rule required a historic study to be done on any building that was built prior to 1953 before it could be eligible for demolition.

    The rule received newfound attention and scrutiny in November when Pima County Superior Court Judge John F. Kelly ruled the restriction illegal, providing a success for minidorm developers.

    Then, in a triumph for areas opposing the construction of minidorms, the City Council approved a proposal in December by Jefferson Park that will keep minidorms out of the neighborhood just north of University Medical Center.

    Yesterday’s ruling by the council to enforce the land use code is another blow to minidorm developers.

    While neighborhood associations, such as Jefferson Park, may have seen the restriction as a victory, many students rely on “”minidorms”” for close access to the university, especially with the UA crisis involving student housing space, said Daniel Blumberg, an undecided freshman.

    Blumberg lives in a “”minidorm”” residence just north of campus with several friends. He said he is concerned that the ruling, while protecting historic buildings, has the potential to hurt the university.

    The UA campus itself already suffers from extreme crowding, and with the ruling, students may find themselves forced to commute long distances from outside the UA area.

    “”If they were to take away that sort of idea, of keeping students’ live-in houses (near campus), that just seems like an unrealistic idea,”” Blumberg said. “”It doesn’t make sense to limit students like that.””

    Since such housing typically rotates students in and out each year, it lends nothing to the neighborhood’s future and the area’s well-being, often leading to neglect for what should be historical landmarks, said Albert Jones, a 42-year resident of Tucson who spoke to the council.

    About 40,000 students attend the UA, but only about 5,600 currently live on campus in the 21 residence halls, said Nicholle Zarkower, Residence Life’s associate director for administrative services.

    To alleviate the student space issue, the UA hopes to begin construction as early as next month on two residence halls on Sixth Street. The residence halls will hold approximately 1,060 students, said Melissa Dryden, program coordinator for Facilities Design andConstruction.

    The $159 million project will yield a combined 350,000 gross square feet with construction to possibly be completed around early- to mid-2010, Dryden said.

    The project is currently awaiting approval to sell bonds before construction on the residence halls can begin, she added.

    “”Until there is respect for that history and that responsibility, I believe that we must search for appropriate ways to protect our neighborhoods,”” councilmember Nina Trasoff said.

    Trasoff said she was pleased with the resulting vote, but felt it a shame the city had to be forced to pass an ordinance protecting buildings of historic value rather than residents taking responsibility themselves.

    “”I wish that we as a council did not have to pass ordinances to protect the character and integrity of our neighborhoods,”” she said. “”Measures such as the demolition ordinance would not be needed if not for a handful of (developers) who demonstrated a blatant disregard for the people in these university area neighborhoods.””

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