City Council looks to have greater involvement in honors complex development
A composite view of the current site (top) and an artist's rendering (bottom) of the proposed new UA honors village.
The Tucson City Council decided to withhold legal judgment on the proposed honors complex north of campus pending a final agreement, they said following executive session Tuesday, Aug. 8.
Any final agreement between the UA and American Campus Communities, the company developing the site, will likely take city and neighborhood concerns into account. The statement from the council expressed desires for the city to have greater involvement with the project moving forward by reviewing reports, holding community meetings, overseeing measures for off-campus development and looking over the final agreement.
"The decision that they made was good news for the university," said UA spokesperson Chris Sigurdson.
Several university officials, including UA President Robert C. Robbins, have already met with neighborhood stakeholders to privately discuss how they may address concerns raised by people living in the area. The meetings followed an April 11 meeting in which the community raised several concerns over traffic, noise, drainage and sustainability.
So far, there isn't a timeline for when the final agreement will be prepared, Sigurdson said.
"I don't think there's any question that President Robbins walked into a difficult situation," said Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. "I'm personally confident that this president ... will assure that there is a community process."
City Council Member Steve Kozachik, who echoed appreciation for Robbins' involvement, said it's his opinion that the university's plan to acquire the three blocks upon which the complex will be built may conflict with state laws or, at the very least, policies.
In a March column for the Arizona Daily Star, Kozachik said while the complex would be a "wonderful addition" to the university, if the partnership is legal, "it strains ethical sensitivities."
The partnership between the UA and ACC stems from a 2010 plan for student housing resulting in the Cadence apartments downtown, in which ACC is not involved. But ACC and the UA maintained conversation over possible development opportunities leading to the currently proposed honors complex.
"It may pass a strict legality test, but it's going to affect their relationship and credibility with the community going forward," Kozachik said.
ACC has owned several empty lots and some of the homes in the area for years with intent to develop student-living.
Current city zoning doesn't allow for the type of structure ACC has in mind. The partnership with the UA would allow the project to bypass city zoning laws, giving free reign to development.
UA's status as a state institution allows for a disregard of city zoning laws, though university officials say they take into account community concerns when considering development around campus.
Sigurdson said the plan is for ACC to develop and manage the complex while the UA owns the land and the building. Ownership would involve regular payments on the site.
The proposed 1,050-bed complex spans three blocks at the intersection of Drachman Street and Fremont Avenue. The facility would include dorms, dining and recreation centers, as well as office space for university employees.
"It's a large project with a large footprint," Sigurdson said. "But at the end of the day, we want to make sure that it's a benefit to everybody."
ACC developed and manages ASU's honors college as well, which was built in 2009, in addition to several other similar facilities across the country.
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