Barrio Viejo/Barrio Historico in Tucson face some development challenges

(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)
Updated: Mar. 12, 2018 at 9:13 PM MST
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(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucson is facing some development decisions on whether its historic barrios remain true to form.

Since the Civil War and before, the barrio architecture was mud built adobe and most of the homes and warehouses in the barrios remain true to that.

Barrio Viejo was considered by some to be a slum that led to more than half of it being destroyed to make way for federal financed urban renewal in the late sixties and seventies.

The Tucson Community Center was built on the site as well as La Placita Village, which is now being demolished to make way for market rate housing.

"They had planned a six lane freeway which would have gone all they way down to 22nd," said David Carter, who has lived in the barrio developed infill projects. "Luckily, they killed that."

Now, the area, which is in the shadow of downtown, is getting renewed attention because as the downtown continues to boom, the barrios become more attractive for development.

However, the hope is the integrity of the neighborhoods can be maintained, while at the same time accommodating the new growth.

"The question is, does Tucson want to have a good historic zone or not," said architect Jody Gibbs, the chair of the Barrio Historico Advisory Board.

The board has filed an appeal to the Tucson City Council for a project, which is proposed near Meyer and Kennedy, in the heart of Barrio Viejo.

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The project is for 14 2-story townhouses which the board said violates a number of zoning codes. The Board voted 5-0 for denial. According to the board, the townhouses would be built of materials that don't conform to historic standards.

"I think historic zones are a good thing," Gibbs said. "Tourists come here, even people who live here, they love historic zones."

That's a point Carter makes as well.

"It's all the people coming down here to take wedding photos, to take photos of their kids, family," he said. "Something for a calendar or Christmas cards."

The neighborhood is rich in color. Reds, blues, greens, earth tones and even some greens and yellows are used to paint homes which gives the barrio a distinct look not found elsewhere in Tucson.

It's the traditional history and diversity that gives the barrio its distinctive style.

"After the Civil War, when this was essentially built up, it was an area where you had a mix of Mexican, Anglo, Chinese, Blacks, to the north Apaches, Pascua Yaqui," Carter said. "This is a national historic district and has been since the late 1970s.

Now, they want to take a step further.

An application has been filed to make the area a National Landmark, as is San Xavier del Bac.

For the time being though, Barrio Viejo is at a crossroads.

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