The November APHZAB meeting was a little different than usual because it opened with a presentation by Michael Taku, lead planner in the PDSD historic office. A central message was that the board has a recommending role and is not a final decision maker. The PDSD director has the final say subject to appeal to Mayor and Council. He also asked for feedback from the board to streamline the review process. Streamlining will be easier said than done because of the many obstacles: a split building- historic permit process, shortage of staff, staff inexperience and a culture that does not seem to value customer service. I will remain a hopeful skeptic until I see concrete improvements.
Board members raised an issue that could not be answered at the meeting: basic zoning problems in a proposed project. How can an HZAB review the historic elements of a project when basic zoning issues are apparent? Historic review normally happens before the building permitting process is begun. This is where the split process creates big problems. The board also asked to be kept informed on approved changes to plans by the city/county commission or PDSD occurring after the APHZAB makes its recommendation. Failure in this regard causes frustration in the community and on our board.
At Mayor and Council direction, PDSD staff has begun the process of amending the Armory Park HPZ boundary to remove the Baffert property from it. This may be the best option available now to address a difficult economic vs. historic issue, but it also sets a dangerous precedent. If you want to know more about the Baffert project, you can go to the previous article here.
In the first of two informal reviews, 726 S Bean Ave. the property owner proposes to build two two-story apartment buildings on a vacant lot. “The Board had a number of questions, including the buildings’ proposed height and whether existing examples in the development zone support the proposal.” The lot is small and the two-story exterior walls near the property lines will loom over the nearby lots. Structures nearby with similar total heights do not have the same wall height close to a property line. The largest structures nearby are not contributing historic structures and cannot be used for a height comparison for this proposal.
The second informal review was for a Flexible Lot Development proposed at 811 S 4th Ave. The property owner represented by his architect “plans to build five two-story houses on three lots. There are two existing houses. One house on 4th Ave would be built with a gambrel roof and the other four (one on 4th Ave and three on Railroad Ave) would be built in a Sonoran style. Board members’ questions included whether two-story houses were appropriate and how the Railroad Ave. frontage would appear.”
There were also two formal reviews, the first at 731 S 4th Ave. regarding HPZ violations: “installation of security bars on 4th Ave windows and of glass block windows on Railroad Ave side without prior HPZ review.” The property owner “explained that TEP informed him that due to the new installation of the electric service on the back side of the property, only non-opening windows could be used within three feet of that service. In the bathrooms they are part of new tilework so tearing them out would involve considerable expense. The security bars’ artistic appearance is inappropriate for the house.” The property owner “said he was willing to remove them.”
The board decided that “while APHZAB would not have permitted the use of glass block windows if asked prior to their installation, the it was willing to allow them to remain if the property owner develops a plan to retrofit their exterior appearance to make them look more conforming to historically appropriate windows and presents his proposal to the Board. The Board emphasized this sets no precedent for other properties. The Board recommended that the property owner remove the 4th Ave. window security bars or replace them with some more historically appropriate.” I have seen the security bars and they are attractive but not historically appropriate.
The final formal review was of an HPZ Violation at 245 S 5th Ave. (across 5th Ave. from the Senior Center and Safford School). “The property owner replaced all the windows with vinyl windows and all the doors, and replaced a small porch on the back of the house facing 13th St.”
The Board agreed “to allowing the windows and doors currently in place to remain temporarily in order to secure the property, but the property owner should explore the history property cards and develop a plan to present to the Board that will restore the character-defining elements of all the door and window openings and the back porch, in character with the age and style of the house.” There is an important message here for those wanting to upgrade a contributing historic structure. Original elements should be retained where possible rather than being replaced. Also, Not all double hung windows are the same; the window pane patterns are likely to be character defining elements of the historic property. This may be a surprise to many Armory Park property owners.
If I find that any of these recommendations is not upheld upon further review, I will advise you.
At the December meeting, the board will elect its officers for the upcoming year. It is also expected that Michael Means, Steve Grede and Patrick O’Brien will be seated as new board members. During the year, the board will need to be vigilant to insure that new construction on vacant lots is consistent with HPZ guidelines and does not set precedents that may negatively impact the integrity of the HPZ. The recent popularity of the downtown areas has many benefits but also creates economic pressures to weaken historic preservation.
Note: The portions of this article relating the decisions of the board are based on the Legal Action Report submitted by the board. In the interest of accuracy some of the wording (generally in quotes) comes directly from the LAR. The LAR can be viewed at https://www.tucsonaz.gov/files/clerks/uploads/bccfiles/25292.pdf.