Controversy brewing over 5 Points development downtown

Updated: Apr. 11, 2018 at 9:17 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A new development planned for an empty lot at Stone and Sixth at 5-Points near downtown is creating some controversy.

Not because of the development itself, called The Baffert, but the process the city must go through in order to allow the development to be built.

It's a three-story mixed use development, which includes housing and retail. It sits near the Southern edge of the Armory Park Neighborhood.

Armory Park, is protected by what is known as a Historic Overlay Zone which was passed in 1974 to protect the historical integrity of the older neighborhood.

It is the first ever protected zone in Tucson, written and passed in 1974. There are now five.

For the past 44 years, all remodeling, renovation and construction had to conform to the historic standards, generally under a very strict review process.

But now, the developer, Larry Tappler, has petitioned for a rezoning which he hopes will finally get his project built after two years of planning.

There's a problem.

"In our area, 24 feet is your maximum height," said Martha McClements, the President of the Armory Park Homeowners Association. "They want to go up to 48 feet."

Tappler has already reduced the size of the project from four stories to three but feels he can't go any smaller and still have an economically viable project.

To accommodate the height variance, the city would literally re-zone the parcel out of the district which means the height rules would no longer apply.

According to Armory Park, that is unprecedented and for the future of historic districts, dangerous.

"If you start nibbling away at the properties, all of a sudden historic preservation doesn't mean anything to anybody anymore," said Michael Means, the secretary for the neighborhood association.

The city says there is precedent because it was used in The Trinity project on 4th Avenue, even though the Tucson City Council said it could not be used as precedent.

But Armory Park argues this is different anyway. Never has the city been willing to gouge out a piece of property in order to break apart a historic preservation zone.

One city council member said each case stands on its own merits, which the association takes to mean that it could affect all five overlay zones used to protect historic areas, especially the barrios near downtown.

There is a proposed text amendment which could end all the controversy and would spell out when and where an exception would be allowed. But it has languished in the city and will not even be considered before the Thursday, April 12 hearing on The Baffert project.

An assistant city manager said it's a flaw in the system and needs to be addressed but is not sure when it will.

Meantime, as downtown Tucson flourishes, and development begins to push it's way into adjoining neighborhoods, it appears addressing it is becoming more critical.

"We're not against growth," McClements said, and not against the project. "The city needs to make money, the developer needs to make money, we understand that."

But she adds, "Neighborhoods are being affected by growth of the city, and that's a good thing but it can be a bad thing for the neighborhoods though."

History, it seems, depends on it.

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