A Busy Evening at APHZAB

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 IMG_2606Armory 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.

726 S Bean AveIn 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 811 S 4th AveAve. 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.”

731 S 4th AveThere 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 237 S 5th Aveand 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.

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. Continue reading “Houghton East Has Lessons for Armory Park”

APHZAB Gives Useful Feedback

At its October meeting, our historic board had one informal review to consider. Informal reviews are offered to help those who propose projects in our historic zone to avoid design problems at an early and hopefully less expensive point in their project’s development. This is what was posted in the Legal Action Review:

4. Informal Review, 726 S Bean Ave. Brian Kassel, property owner. Proposed 726 S Bean Aveconstruction on vacant lot. Members identified a number of issues Mr. Kassel will have to look at, covering both HPZ and other Code requirements. He was given the names and contact info for several City officials who could assist him in working through them before he completes his plans.

There were many issues likely to cause difficulties for the project as proposed so there were vigorous discussions and numerous possibilities offered. Issues of building height, two structures on a relatively small lot, a sewer easement and more. Mr. Kassel felt at first that the board was being adversarial in bringing up the many challenges but by the meeting’s end seemed to understand that the comments were in his best interest. PDSD staff with whom he had discussed his plans had not pointed out these areas of concern. Many issues were not of a historic nature but were basic code issues which should be dealt with elsewhere in the permitting process.

Near the end of the meeting, there was discussion of general issues:

6. Discussion of APHZAB Administrative Issues. There was a discussion of issues with the City approving proposals over the objection of HZABs, raised by Karen Costello from Barrio Historico HZAB. Ms. McClements reported on her presentation at the previous week’s Mayor and Council meeting. Mr. Duffy will send out an email announcing the November 14 election for 2018 APHZAB members in a special meeting. 

The problem raised by Ms. Costello is only one of several ways the city fails to support the volunteer HZABs. Failure to provide boards with complete project information or feedback on final project approval details are two further examples.

I was at the M&C meeting where Ms. McClements made her presentation. She did an excellent job of explaining the important work of the APHZAB in applying federal historic standards to preserve our historic community. She was thanked by the Mayor for her presentation and the fine work of our board.

Please make a note of the board election to be held at a special meeting in conjunction with the APNA general meeting at 7 PM on 14 November at the St Andrew’s Parish hall. This board is very important to Armory Park so residents and property owners should participate in nominating board members. If you have time for this very important public service, please offer your name for election.

Historic Review Players

If you follow the AP listserv, you already know that there is a lot of confusion regarding the historic review process in Armory Park (and probably the other four HPZs).  The Historic Review Improvement Initiative (HRII) is a small group of your neighbors trying to drive improvements to the process. As a byproduct of our efforts, it sometimes becomes obvious that there is some misunderstanding within our community. The Roles of APNA (our neighborhood association) and APHZAB (our historic board).  Continue reading “Historic Review Players”

Historic Review Improvement Initiative

We are a grass roots initiative in Armory Park with an objective to cause positive changes to the historic review process and ensure Historic Preservation Zones (HPZs) remain vital and visible reminders of the history and cultural heritage of Tucson. We are concerned that the process for approving the preservation and rehabilitation of properties in Tucson’s historic districts discourages proper maintenance by property owners as needed to preserve the historic character of our community. An unreasonably difficult review process can even discourage people from buying HPZ properties. Adequate maintenance and strong property values are essential to maintaining our historic properties. Continue reading “Historic Review Improvement Initiative”

APHZAB Approves 3, Debate Continues

I am trying a different approach in covering August’s meeting. To have more precision on the board’s formal actions and to make my job a little easier, the board’s Legal Action Report is reproduced verbatim. It is shown in italics to differentiate from my comments.

Informal Review, 617 S 3rd Ave. Debora Oslik, property owner. Proposed fence. In Ms. Oslik’s absence, she had a friend present on her behalf. Members expressed support for 617 S 3rd 2adding a trellis wall facing 3rd Ave. on the south side of the house for privacy, 6’ high if the wall facing the street were built flush with the house façade and 4’ high if the wall were extended out to the sidewalk. Members suggested using plantings to provide screening if the shorter wall provided insufficient privacy. No formal action taken.  The property is on a corner lot and so has no proper rear yard. It is fenced on the street side with a low fence that gives no privacy. The board’s recommendation allows for a privacy screening feature from the SW corner of the house to the south property line. The second option adds nothing significant to privacy. Of course, plantings are also an option since landscaping is not subject to historic review. Continue reading “APHZAB Approves 3, Debate Continues”

APHZAB Hears Need for Improvements

At its monthly meeting, our historic board heard a presentation by Michael Means regarding the Historic Review Improvement Initiative. This effort by a number of Armory Park property owners is motivated by the inefficient and often unhelpful nature of the city’s historic review administration. The historic board struggles to perform its vital historic preservation mission while handicapped by an unnecessarily frustrating administrative process fostering ill will among property owners. Community support is essential for a fully effective historic preservation program. Continue reading “APHZAB Hears Need for Improvements”


Among the few complaints I have living in Armory Park is the obscure, complicated and uncertain process for obtaining historic review and approval of a project for repair or addition to my property. Information has not been readily available though in some cases helpful information does exist. A brochure published by our neighborhood association in 1990 is one such. While it can be very helpful for those unfamiliar with historic preservation, remember that these are guidelines while definitive direction can only come from city code or decisions by the appropriate city officials. Here is the information extracted from that brochure: Continue reading “HISTORIC DISTRICT GUIDELINES”

Historic Process Needs Improvements

At the June APHZAB meeting, the first item addressed was the roof replacement I commented on in a recent post here. The proposed re-roofing was recommended for approval and that there should be no fine levied. There was a lot of discussion regarding the reasoning for the requirement that re-roofing have a minor historic review. Roof coverings should resemble. where practical and visible from the street, the roofing materials used when the structure was constructed. Continue reading “Historic Process Needs Improvements”

Historic Review Controversy

Most of you have probably seen the conversation on our listserv regarding roof replacements and historic zone approval. The general subject of the conversation touches on something critically important to Armory Park. It also illustrates the difficulty of resolving differences of opinion, especially when individual freedom of choice is impacted. I feel that preservation of the AP historic character is vital to the future well being of our neighborhood. Without it, AP is just a group of old houses waiting to be demolished so that more profitable large buildings can be built. Nevertheless, reasonable compromise must be sought. Continue reading “Historic Review Controversy”