Houghton East Has Lessons for Armory Park

Earlier this month I attended a Zoning Examiner hearing for a large Fry’s store, gas station and other stores in the Houghton East neighborhood planning area. The community was annexed into the city with a detailed and restrictive neighborhood plan as a precondition. The debate is about whether the project complies with the neighborhood plan. This was a rehearing because the first one did not include sufficient  notice.

Most of the arguments pro and con were as expected. The church owning the property wants the cash from the sale of the property. The developer and some individuals tout the positive economic impact and convenience for those living in the area. Some opponents object to additional traffic, noise, artificial lighting and the usual sorts of things which might annoy those living nearby.

Those arguments were not the interesting part of the presentations. The Houghton East Neighborhood Association (HE) had several presenters who pointed out more substantive problems with the project. City code requires zoning actions to comply with neighborhood plans. These plans can be modified by a specific process which has not been done in this case. Among the plan’s requirements is substantial open space which must be undisturbed with original vegetation and no structures. It must also be contiguous. The project includes grading the entire area and constructing retaining walls and drainage within the “open space” which is also broken up by paved driveways. The city is evaluating the project as neighborhood commercial (small retail) while the over 100 thousand square feet of retail space seems more appropriately classed (by the code) as a Large Retail Establishment which has a much more stringent approval process. The proposed gas station is within the 100 year floodplain.

The HE neighborhood abuts the transition zone to the Saguaro East park and is considered by park staff to be an important part of the park’s environment. The large lot residential development does not negatively impact the transition zone or the park. The park superintendent testified against having a large business development within the HE neighborhood.

What does all of this mean for Armory Park? It is alarming that PDSD staff so readily disregards city codes (city laws) to approve a project seen as having economic benefits. We see evidence of this same approach to code compliance in the five HPZs (Armory Park is one). If we want to preserve our historic character, we may need to mount a vigorous defense as the Houghton East people are doing. We should watch how their case unfolds. I wish them luck.

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