The August APNA board meeting had an interesting discussion about development of the lot at the NE corner at Five Points. The project is titled The Baffert Mixed Use Building at 5 Points. The Baffert family once owned the property. Our late neighbor, Annie Laos, was a Baffert. Larry Kappler, the developer/owner of the property, made a good presentation to the board asking for support of the project.
The key issue is the allowed building height. The proposed project would be restricted to a height of not over 44 feet. If the property is moved out of the historic zone without an agreement, it could be much taller. Since there is no legal mechanism for waiving height restrictions in an HPZ, another mechanism is needed to make the development economically viable. I won’t go into the technical details but an innovative approach termed doughnut rezoning (part of the property rezoned) will allow a compromise between protecting our HPZ and allowing economically feasible development of an otherwise unproductive vacant lot.
The building will not use artificial historic elements but rather will use contemporary finishes in a way that will not intrude into the aesthetics of the historic area to its north and east. A parking place will be provided for each apartment. Bicycle friendly features will be included. As with other nearby businesses, customer parking for the proposed restaurants and retail shops may not be provided.
Detailed design has not been done yet because it will be expensive and would be risky until there is agreement on the important issues. The building could vary from what was shown at the meeting but would include all of the major elements agreed upon.
It is expected that there will be 13 apartments on two floors. The number of businesses at ground level will be determined by the needs of those who lease the available space. For example, a mid-sized restaurant would take half of the available space. This would allow for a couple of smaller retail businesses.
The building will face to the south with the residents’ parking on the Wanslee Motors side. There would be no setback on 6th Avenue and 18th Street to align with the restored historic carriage house also on the property. Balconies and facade elements will overhang the sidewalks. Restaurant outside dining may be provided where adequate sidewalk width allows.
Comments from the board were positive. Examples: “It will be an anchor project for Five Points.” “It will stabilized the SW corner of Armory Park.” At Mr. Kappler’s request, approved by a unanimous vote of the board, the president will send a supportive letter to the Tucson Mayor and Council. Board members complimented President John Burr for his work on finding agreement on issues so the project could move forward. I agree that the project will provide a positive visual element contrasted with the unattractive properties just a little further south.
President Burr asked Michael Means and me for a brief update on the Historic Review Improvement Initiative (HRII) which we are managing. This is an initiative of a group of neighbors who have had recent experience with the historic review process and see the need for improvements. The effort is now concentrating on establishing communications with neighborhood associations connected with the other Tucson HPZs. The push for improvements may need to be elevated to the city council so we are seeking to broaden the base of support for the reforms needed. Asked for examples of issues, we reported examples of an inefficient administrative process vague guidance and a lack of customer friendliness on the part of city staff. You have read many such complaints on the listserv. An extensive discussion among board members followed. Finding a constructive way forward will be complicated, made more difficult by the lack of experience of the city’s current staff. I hope the APNA board will actively support our efforts. Wish us luck.
Reminder: The next ice cream social will be at Johnny Gibson’s on September 10th from 1:00 to 4:00 PM.