Topics in this issue...
- Tucson Be Kind
- Fry's - Houghton and 22nd
- Mister Car Wash
- Animal Sanctuary Support
- Homeless Work Program
- RTA Funding
- Local First: Holidays at the Zoo
- Events & Entertainment
Thanksgiving is my mental start of the holiday season. It’s when people’s hearts turn to giving and to those around us who are less fortunate. So this week I will fill the Be Kind section with a few of those types of opportunities.
On Wednesday, December 6 UAPD is hosting this year’s on-campus Toys for Tots “Stuff the UAPD Command Post” campaign. It’ll be held at the main intersection on campus – Cherry and University – where you may have seen the Red Cross blood van from time to time. UAPD, the USMC reserve, UA Naval ROTC and the UA Campus Pantry will collect unwrapped new toys as well as non-perishable food items between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. on that day. The toys will be headed to kids in need throughout the community and the food will provide assistance to UA staff and students.
The RTA is also hosting a gift collection event in support of Ramon Gonzales’ Miracle on 31st Street annual event. Through it, toys and food are offered to economically disadvantaged kids throughout the region. On December 1st, from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., the RTA will be collecting toys in a “Fill the Streetcar” gathering. It’ll be held on 8th Street, between 4th Avenue and Herbert. At 4 p.m. they’ll have live music as well.
The Community Food Bank is also doing their part. You’ve heard about Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Well Tuesday, November 28th is Giving Tuesday. You already know the Community Food Bank feeds thousands throughout the area. Thanks to the generosity of Janet and Barry Lang, your gift will be matched up to the first $30K collected when you use this link to donate.
Based on what I know of the heart of Tucsonans, I expect we’re going to see a full UAPD Command Post, a full Streetcar, and a full $30K check from the Langs. Thanks to who you are.
Our friends over at the Islamic Center of Tucson are hosting an interfaith celebration on Thursday, December 14th. This will be the third year for this important community event. The format includes speakers representing a variety of faith traditions. I’m honored to again be invited to represent the M&C as a speaker. The event will begin at 5:30. The ICT is located at the corner of Tyndall and 1st. Please come and help us affirm the inclusive heart of Tucson.
On a similar note, Monday, December 4th at 10 a.m. the new city council will be sworn in and seated. Each such occasion includes the council members choosing both a judge for the swearing in and representatives of the Tucson faith community to speak a blessing over the governing body and city residents. Judge Michael Pollard has gratiously accepted my request that he perform my swearing in. He was recognized as Judge of the Year by the Arizona State Supreme Court voting body last year. We know him best for his hard work on belalf of veterans through the veterans court – a process by which he works to help vets keep their lives together and avoid incarceration where appropriate. I’ve asked Pastor Bart Smith from our partners at St. Mark’s to share one blessing and Irfan Sheikh from the Islamic Center of Tucson to share another. I’ve developed close relationships with both of those faith bodies over the past eight years. They reflect Tucson Values. If you can carve out the time, it’d be great to have a full house in support of these relationships.
Here is one final item that fits in the Be Kind section. Last week a person was bitten by a dog while out walking on the Rillito Loop. The owner of the dog ran away, leaving the victim having to go to the emergency room and begin a regimine of rabies shots. The incident happened on Tuesday evening. If you are the owner of the dog, please call Jack at 419.8709 and let him know whether or not you’ve had your dog vaccinated. He’d like to avoid having to finish the 15 more shots in the program if possible. You know I love dogs, but you must control them on a leash while you’re out in public. You should also get them vaccinated and spayed or neutered.
When police are called to an incident described as a “domestic dispute with gunshots,” it’s a clear sign to bring significant resources. Such a call came in Oceola-Mills, Pennsylvania last Friday morning. Police found a 26-year-old husband had shot and killed his 22-year-old wife and a 47-year-old friend as well as a third victim who went to the hospital with life-threatening wounds. As is not uncommon in cases like this, the killer was later found dead with self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
In a Chester, Virginia Thanksgiving Day shooting, three people are dead and the killer is in custody. No details have been released other than this took place in a home in which a husband, wife and two children lived. The killer was a youth minister at a local church. The victims were his family members.
In another Thanksgiving Day shooting that occurred in Twin Lakes, Minnesota, the two victims are 28 and 31 years old. The killer was a 25 year old guy who was later apprehended by police. No motive was released, which is sure to leave the grieving families in a deeper state of shock over the loss.
This policy statement is taken directly from the City’s Unified Development Code. It is the basis for everything that follows:
Last week we voted on a rezoning option that’s called a Planned Area Development (PAD) for a new Fry’s with some associated other retail uses. The vote was the culmination of about three years of work that involved lots of community interaction. Even on the night of the vote though, there was a clearly divided sense as to how the PAD should be developed. The proposal passed 6-1.
The Metro Chamber felt compelled to send out this rather predictable graphic.
It was both predictable and uninformed. The Fry’s going in at 22nd and Houghton will replace one that already exists down the street about a mile away. Fry’s will not agree to a non-compete clause in the sale of the old building, so what the M&C agreed to do is to shift some jobs to a new location. There’ll be a slight addition, but this ain’t an “east-side Caterpillar” that we approved.
The real contention in the vote had to do with whether or not the developer was fulfilling the terms of the Houghton East Neighborhood Plan (HENP). That’s a requirment for any rezoning. Area plans are the city’s commitment to private property owners that we’ll honor the investments they’ve made and give them a sense of security in how the area around them is developed. M&C has been firm in resisting the new UA Honors Dorm because the way it’s being developed took the public voice out of the rezoning process and the requirement that it be consistent with the surrounding area plan. In order for the Fry’s PAD to be appropriate, it needed to meet the conditions laid down in the HENP.
As recently as last Friday, a city zoning examiner (ZE) decision validated the need for compliance with area plans, even those out on the east side. This sentence is from that ZE recommendation:
So, they have value. Our job is to make sure what’s being proposed for rezoning fits with the terms of the affected plan.
Here’s one example of where I feel Fry’s failed to do that. In the HENP they define Consolidated Open Space like this:
But in the PAD, the developers inserted this language to define Open Space:
One could argue – and many of us in the room, if not at the dais did - that retaining and screening walls, as well as revegetation and riparian mitigation are not consistent with the HENP where it states “undisturbed area free of structures or other improvements.”
The HENP prohibits “channelization, detention/retention basins, and other improvements in designated spine channels.” These graphics which I took from the PAD document show washes, spine channels and Xeroriparian areas located throughout the development site:
It doesn’t matter whether somebody cares about grading out those elements. The issue is whether or not the HENP allows for it. If not, there’s a process we have to amend those conditions. A rezoning is not that process.
One of the prohibited uses in the PAD document is what’s called a Large Retail Establishment (LRE). That’s a retail store of over 100,000 square feet. In our Land Use Code that term is defined to include “the aggregate square footage of all adjacent stores that share checkstands, management, a controlling ownership interest, and storage areas.” Early in the zoning process the developers reduced the size of the Fry’s from 124,000 square feet down to 99,918 square feet. This paragraph from the zoning examiner’s report validates that approximate 20 percent reduction in size:
Objections were raised – with which I agreed – that the proposal exceeded the 100,000 square foot limit when the gas pumps were added into the equation. That was based on this graphic which had been presented multiple times, directly from the developer’s own PAD presentation:
I believe that upon hearing the objections that were raised, the developers reduced the size of the main building in order to fit the gas pumps in under the 100,000 square foot limit. The issue I raised during the public hearing is that the change came as a surprise to everyone in the room who had attended the public hearing conducted by the zoning examiner. To that point, the opponents of the PAD had this frame prepared in their PowerPoint:
As with the washes and riparian areas, the question we had before us wasn’t whether or not we like big box stores. It was whether or not the PAD contained one, as defined in the UDC. A larger issue for me was the fact that I don’t believe the change to the PAD had been made in sufficient daylight to allow for input from the opponents. This frame appeared in the Fry’s power point on the night we took our vote:
If all they had done, as was alleged, was to change the size shown on the main store to include the 300 square feet of the gas station, the store would be shown as 99,618, not 96,000 square feet. I was disappointed that the city attorney allowed the change in after the zoning examiner public hearing. But we voted on the amended size. There was no specific condition placed on the vote to formally constrain them to the 96,000, but since we discussed it at length, I can only hope our development team will hold firm if further changes are proposed.
We’re also allowing them to place retail and gas pumps in a floodplain. Overlay the image shown above with this one from the PAD document that shows where the area is overrun with flooding issues:
When I raised the issue during the public hearing staff assured me the map didn’t mean what it says it does (“100 year floodplain”). Silly me for believing the material we were supposed to be voting on.
Add to that this language from the HENP related to site development and drainage:
It’s difficult for anybody to argue that carving out a 1,200’ strip of landscape buffer around a 16 acre site, adding over 120,000 square feet of stores, excavating to accommodate 12 gas pump storage tanks and the footings and foundations for the retail stores, and surrounding all of that with asphalt for parking is “integrating the site design with the natural terrain.”
In March, 2015 the city produced a planning document called our Low Impact Development and Green Infrastructure Guidance Manual (LID/GI). The LID/GI manual says, “the placement of development within regulatory floodplains, riparian habitat, and areas with concentrated flow causes a greater overall impact than development that is located in already disturbed areas. Thoughtful site layout would avoid disturbing these areas.”
We’re ignoring all of that with the Fry’s development.
Last week I wrote about some infill projects. It’s stunning to me that the zoning examiner refers to the Fry’s PAD as “infill.” It’s a 16 acre commercial development out a mile from the Saguaro National Monument East buffer zone, composed of over 100,000 square feet of retail and a 12 pump gas station. That’s not infill.
One of the projects I mentioned last week is the Palm Shadows development at Speedway and Campbell. In the PAD document for that project they justify the density of the project this way: “Tucson is currently in a paradigm shift in terms of its predominant philosophy on growth and development. The prior grow-low-and-spread-out mindset is being replaced by a new paradigm that embraces a fresh and more appropriate urban form.” It strikes me as ironic that some of the same people who were standing in front of us promoting the Fry’s are the same ones who are promoting this “new urban form” at Campbell and Speedway. Community members who recognize that inconsistency may be calling on the development team to do some redesign.
Emerson said “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” While that may be true, some consistency in development philosophy and integrity is going to now be called for by people who are involved in both the Fry’s and actual midtown “infill” work. There’s a network of well-informed neighborhood groups throughout the city who can connect dots when they see an area plan in one part of town being altered through a rezoning, while they are being asked to consider amending their own for a different project across town. Our job as a governing body is to ensure consistency in how our policies are implemented.
The Chamber may feel my position was a “job killer.” I think it’s clear they simply didn’t do their homework again.
I believe this is such a clear case of a rezoning not being consistent with the terms of an area plan that I will be asking some of my colleagues to bring the item back for reconsideration. That does not mean we’d be killing the Fry’s. What it means is that we would be discussing amending the HENP, consistent with the policy statement with which I opened this section.
Let’s talk about real jobs that were approved – to the chagrin of the Metro Chamber? – last Tuesday. Three years ago the M&C approved moving Mister Car Wash’s corporate headquarters down into the 6th Avenue/downtown area. Since that 2014 move they’ve continued to grow; starting with 65 jobs, they’re now up to 150 and counting. They are now expanding again over to the historic 1929 O’Rielly Motors building at 415 N. 6th Ave. I toured their new space last week and it will be very cool when they’re done.
This move will involve a $6.2M investment into the new 28,864 square foot facility. The planned expansion includes adding 37 new jobs that will have an average salary of right at $73,000. Next year alone they’ll add 20 of those, adding over $1.5M in payroll to the area. Plus they’ll have room to continue growing beyond that.
This is no small scale operation. In 2014 they operated 133 car washes and 26 lube centers nationwide. Since then they’ve added over 100 car washes and increased their lube center management by about 25 percent. They have 615 employees in Pima County, and each time they take on a new car wash they spend about $350K on capital to rebrand and upgrade the site.
The new corporate headquarters will include a workout room for employees, a community kitchen, outdoor barbeque space and bicycles for workers to use. Plus a full benefits package. We were able to catalyze the move by approving an independent outside economic analysis to study whether the level of investment will qualify for some of our business incentives. Based on the early numbers we’re seeing, I’ll be shocked if they do not qualify.
Contrary to the Fry’s, this is economic expansion being done in a way that is consistent with our rules and processes.
The Fry’s development is bypassing the important step of amending an area plan in significant ways. I’ve outlined several above. The 5 Points development being proposed by Kappcon Construction is called the Baffert. I’ve met multiple times with the development team and surrounding neighbors. All understand that this project will need to thread a regulatory needle in order to move forward. Everyone who has seen the project loves it and we’re correctly managing the steps to getting it approved.
The area is in an Historic Preservation Zone (HPZ). The HPZ has a height restriction based on the nearest contributing historic property. In this case that’s 24 feet. The Baffert needs to be 48 feet. There is no process in the HPZ policies that allow for an increase in height. The solution being proposed is to redraw the HPZ boundary in a way that pulls the site out of the zone, do it in a way that includes a new contributor to the HPZ, but subject the development to historic compatibility review by the relevant historic review boards in perpetuity. Then with all of that in place, we begin a formal rezoning process. These maps show how that boundary amendment is going to look:
Here’s the redraw of the boundary:
This is not amending an area plan through a rezoning.
Similar to the Fry’s, the Baffert is going on a currently vacant site. Here’s the image:
The building in the background is the 24 foot tall contributing historic structure. As a part of this project it is being remodeled in a way that preserves its historic character. The Baffert is going in on the vacant land. Here’s an architects conceptual image of the finished product:
The new project will be a mixed use, residential and commercial addition to the corner. As with Mister Car Wash, it is indeed economic expansion, not just shifting jobs and shuttering a grocery store down the road, which by the way destines the shopping center in which that anchor building is located to a certain demise.
To be fair, the Armory Park Historic Review Board did not approve of this move. Their concern is about precedent. But they also recognize the value of what’s being proposed. To that end, we gave direction on Tuesday to staff to form a working group that’ll include representatives of all the HPZ neighborhoods and talk through how we might amend the HPZ rules to allow for some variances without redrawing boundaries.
It’s ironic that the Mister Car Wash and Baffert were on the same agenda as was the Fry’s, but the Chamber was so evidently fixated on development outside the Saguaro National Monument East buffer that they missed the creative ways we are catalyzing economic development in what may truly be called “infill.”
That little guy is just one of the many animals being cared for out at the mom and daughter run HoofsnHorns Farm Sanctuary. Sidney Smith and her daughter Shelby opened the place over a decade ago and gained their nonprofit status in 2013. They have a heart for taking in all sorts of critters and caring for them, many of which are living out their last days after being abandoned or neglected. All are loved and treated with dignity.
The Shelter will host a fund raiser for HoofsnHorns on Friday, December 1st from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. The goal is to help them fund a new fence to protect their animals from wandering away from the sanctuary. They’re located out in the Picture Rocks area. On Friday, they’ll have food and raffles, plus Annie the Pig will be on hand for photos and kisses. I can’t tell you how many Annie’s or Ann’s I have in my life. Might as well add another.
The Shelter is where we held the celebration when the Tucson Greyhound Park was finally shuttered. They have a true heart for our furry friends. Please join us on Friday in support of the important work Sidney, Shelby and their team is doing out at the sanctuary. The Shelter is located at 4155 E. Grant Rd. It’s a bar, so you have to be 21 or older to get in. But good news, Annie will be posing and doing her thing outside with the food trucks. She’ll be joined by some other critters (look for Holly the goat – I also know a few Holly’s) so bring the kids and you can still support the cause without even heading inside the bar. Kevin, the owner of The Shelter deserves high marks for supporting local nonprofits like this.
Richard Fimbres has spearheaded the implementation of the homeless work program. Others who deserve to be credited with moving it to where it is today include Old Pueblo Community Services, Richard’s staff, Alison from my staff, John Jacobs of the Downtown Merchants Council, Donovan Durband from Park Tucson, and several important funding partners. We’re all hopeful that the program will continue to grow.
Last week we received an update on how the program is developing. It includes OPCS taking the lead on connecting with some homeless people from the community, taking them to a worksite, providing supervision, payment and food. They then transport the workers back to what is generally the shelter at which they’re staying. The first nine months of the program have yielded the following results:
- 264 people have benefitted from the work program
- 30 of those workers have since found housing
- 42 have found employment
- 109 locations and 65 miles of roadway have been cleaned
- Over 51,000 pounds of trash and debris have been removed from the community
Currently the work crews gather three days per week. That’ll expand once resources are stabilized, both financial and the administrative assistance it takes to facilitate the program. That assistance comes largely from this group of nonprofits, including both the city and county:
The Tucson Change Movement portion is the parking meter funding opportunity you see scattered around town. Blue, distinctive meters are situated in a variety of 18 different locations, all of the revenue from which currently goes directly to helping fund the work program. We’re grateful to the Downtown Merchants Association and Park Tucson for getting this piece up and running.
This time of year there is a more focused attention on the needy in the community. While the focus is good, the needs don’t disappear when the holiday lights get stored. We’re grateful to our funding partners – TMC, Walmart, HSL, SW Gas and Cox – for their help in this outreach.
A very different community partnership – one that’s having its own funding challenges – is the Regional Transit Authority (RTA). Last week we received an update on projects, funding and forecasting from the RTA.
The RTA was approved by the voters in the region back in 2006. It’s a half-cent sales tax earmarked for safety, environmental items, transit and new roads, which makes up the largest portion of the funding. It does not pay for road repair.
The tax was projected to yield $2.1B over its 20-year life. The roads portion is $1.2B of the whole plan.
A recent Star article caused a bit of a stir among both residents and council members. It pointed to significant shortfalls in actual revenues versus what the RTA originally projected and the impact that would have on project schedules. In particular, Grant Road.
The RTA is made up of nine member jurisdictions. While the city contributes about half of the RTA revenues, we get one vote on the RTA board. The tax will come back for a reauthorization soon since it sunsets in 2026. One point I made at the council meeting last week was that without city voters in support, it will fail.
The RTA projects revenues to be about $500,000,000 less than what they originally thought when the plan was sold to the voters. When I referenced this “shortfall” during the M&C meeting, I was told there is no “revenue shortfall.” In fact, there is – and I suggested that trying to cover up that point won’t generate confidence with the voters that they’re being given the straight scoop on the health of the plan.
They’re using a variety of strategies to keep faith with the voters. One is to have shifted some money from other funding sources over to keep pace with the RTA schedule. Regina correctly pointed out to the RTA speaker that moving money from one source to another simply decreases the number of projects that will be done in the area that was intended with the funds being shifted. We really shouldn’t have to make those basic kinds of points. Another strategy is to do what’s called “value engineering.” That’s simply cutting back on some of the promises made during the design and public outreach process in order to make sure the asphalt part gets paid for without delaying the work. I believe that too will not sell well with the voters when they’re asked to continue the plan.
I recommended the RTA take a hard look at the projected needs on their remaining projects – those needs that were forecast back in 2006 when the plan was being pitched to the voters – and determine whether or not they’re still accurate. We’re driving less, therefore the need to expand certain roads may not be what the 2006 traffic projections may have anticipated. If we re-scope some projects based on actual need, that could free up some cash to keep other work on schedule without shifting non-RTA money over and taking it away from needed projects.
If you’d like to keep track of all the roadway projects you can access the RTA website at www.rtamobility.org. In the case of Grant Road, the website shows it’s scheduled to be completed after the RTA tax expires. At least one site does. This graphic comes from the RTA website that’s managed by the city:
Evidently though, the RTA is responsible for managing a different website (the one cited above). It shows a different schedule.
I asked our city RTA representatives and the RTA Director what happens to these phases of the Grant Road project if the voters don’t approve extending the tax beyond 2026, and who’s on the hook for the $33M cost estimate if the RTA no longer exists when construction is scheduled. The reply was nobody quite knows who put that construction schedule on their website and that phases 5/6 of Grant are programmed for FY22-FY26. That doesn’t give me a lot of confidence, but at least it’s on the record.
It’s a moving target though as revenues fluctuate. Much more on this in the weeks ahead. I believe the exchange we had with staff on Tuesday will set the framework for a much more robust involvement by the council on projects the voters approved that lay within the city limits.
The Local Tucson piece this week is a promo for some holiday fun at the Tucson Zoo at Reid Park. These are annual opportunities to support the zoo and to visit while it’s decked out with holiday festive decorations.
Brew Lights is coming this Saturday, December 2nd from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. It’s the annual chance to taste test a variety of locally brewed beers while also enjoying crafts, carousel rides, music and food. Since Santa will make an appearance, the whole family can appreciate the event.
Zoo Lights comes from December 7 through December 23. It also runs from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. This is the annual month-long chance to wander through the zoo while it’s decorated with holiday lights – each night with hot chocolate, other goodies and Santa. For an additional reason to attend, the zoo is helping to support the Humane Society, Community Food Bank and the Tucson A List between December 7 and December 19. You will get a dollar off the regular admission price during those dates if you bring along something that’ll support those nonprofits. Human or pet food, or kid’s toys are generally what works. For a complete list and to get more information on both of these events, you can go to www.reidparkzoo.org.
On a related and disappointing note, we’re losing our Zoo Director, Jason Jacobs. He’s from California and recently received an offer to run the Sacramento Zoo. It’s closer to his home and family, so we can’t begrudge him taking the position. His last day will be December 20. Sad, but good for him. We’re working with our Zoological Society partners to begin the search for a replacement.
I’ll close with this. It’s an important website you can use to help locate lost or stolen items. TPD has signed onto the site and monitors it to help us control our inventory of “found” items.
The site is called Foundrop. You can access it at www.foundrop.com.
The way it works is that you inventory your personal property and post it with Foundrop. When you lose items or if they’re stolen, you flag the item on your inventory and now TPD can see that notification. If it ends up as found property, we now have a way to track it to you and return it. There’s no cost to inventory your property on Foundrop, and nobody can see your inventoried property other than law enforcement when you push a “lost/stolen” flag onto a given item. The system works on most browsers and mobile devices.
If you have valuables around, TPD always recommends you make an inventory, photo record, keep track of serial numbers – all of that. Now Foundrop is an additional way to help get your property returned.
Council Member, Ward 6