An agreement between the University of Arizona and a Texas-based developer to build an Honors College complex, including a 1,000-bed dorm, north of the campus is already receiving serious legal scrutiny.
Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik has requested that City Attorney Mike Rankin provide a formal legal review of the memorandum of understanding between the UA and American Campus Communities.
The Austin, Texas-based developer is one the largest student housing developers in the country and owns one of the two city blocks where the UA wants to build the Honors College complex, including a six-story dorm. The UA owns the other part of the property.
The new Honors College would be between East Drachman and Mabel streets and North Park and Santa Rita avenues, north of East Speedway. The location is outside the college’s campus boundaries.
Kozachik, a college employee, said he is concerned the agreement will allow the private developer to sidestep zoning regulations to build the large dorm by transferring ownership of its land to the state. Also, if the developed property is considered part of the university — and not a private development — it would be taken off the city’s property-tax rolls since the school doesn’t pay property taxes.
“With all the terms and conditions built into the agreement protecting ACC’s ability to make a profit, it’s not at all clear to me how this arrangement can be anything but a public-private partnership that should still be subject to all city zoning and procedural processes,” Kozachik said.
If the project is directly tied to the university, as a state entity, it would not have to follow city zoning codes. This would include building heights, density and parking requirements. The current height limitation for the surrounding neighborhood is 25 feet, or roughly two stories.
Area resident Diana Lett has similar concerns, noting that a reference to a land lease in the agreement, which has not been made public, suggests a portion of the property that ACC owns will not be sold to the state, but leased to the UA.
She wondered how the ACC can avoid city zoning codes if it still owns the property.
Lett also questions how a deal with a specific developer to build a new dorm without obtaining bids could be legal for the UA.
Peter Dourlein, the campus architect for the university, said the agreement was a natural outgrowth of discussions between the two parties, offering some legal assurances to the private developer to continue work on the project.
The agreement does not automatically assure the project will move forward as it allows both parties to sever the agreement under specific circumstances.
A representative for ACC did not return a request for comment Friday.
ACC has two student housing developments in Tucson, Entrada Real Oeste, 1 W. University Blvd., and Entrada Real Norte, 1850 N. Tyndall Ave.
In addition to the 1,000-bed dorm, plans include multistory buildings for classrooms, office space, a recreation center, and a four-story parking garage to be built on the adjacent block between North Park and Fremont avenues.
The university is also considering demolishing several buildings along Park between Drachman and Adams streets, and putting in surface lots to offer additional parking.
The neighborhood now consists of homes, apartments catering to students, university parking lots and vacant land.
Currently, many UA students who are part of the Honors College live in residence halls close to North Euclid Avenue and East Sixth Street. The UA said there are more than 4,000 students enrolled in the Honors College.