Fort Lowell restoration hits a snag over new parking lot

City demands it; county has already spent $1.5 million
2013-07-26T00:00:00Z Fort Lowell restoration hits a snag over new parking lotDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The restoration of the historic officers' quarters at Fort Lowell has been put on indefinite hold just a month after Pima County hired a contractor to do the job.

The county was well on its way to preserving the three officers' quarters at the fort until city officials insisted they had to include a new parking lot to comply with city codes.

The county already spent more than $1.5 million to buy the site on East Fort Lowell Road at North Craycroft, clean it up and get it ready for the restoration and for planning. That leaves less than $1 million, of the $2.5 million in historic preservation bonds approved by voters in 2004, to do the actual restoration.

The county said if money goes toward a parking lot, there won't be enough to finish the restoration.

The city wouldn't budge, saying rules are rules.

"The plans we reviewed and approved had that parking lot. Parking is required as part of the land use and Unified Development Code," said Ernie Duarte, the city planning and development services director. "Without that parking lot built we can't finalize the project."

So the county pulled the plug in a letter sent Wednesday from County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry to City Manager Richard Miranda.

"These are bond dollars earmarked for historical preservation and we ought to be doing as much as we can to preserve the history," said Reid Spaulding, county facilities management director. "Not reseal a parking lot."

Duarte said he wasn't privy to county finances, but city codes require parking for public spaces.

"If the public can't get there, especially people with disabilities, we expose the city to liability," he said.

Duarte said the closest parking is on the other side of Craycroft and the high volume of traffic makes it too dangerous to use it as a primary parking lot for the historic site.

He said the parking lot was a part of the original design and should have been accounted for in the county's project budget.

But Linda Mayro, director of county Office of Conservation and Sustainability, said the plan only called for the parking lot to be included if there was enough money. The base plan focused on preserving the actual historic landmarks.

"The preservation of these historic structures was the highest priority," Mayro said. "Because the city would like to have it immediately accessible to the public they insisted on a parking lot being built, so we decided to bid it as an alternative."

The base plan was to address the dilapidated buildings, Mayro said. Then, there was a series of alternate plans comprising things that weren't necessary immediately but would have been nice if the money was available.

Mayro said the bids came in higher than expected, which meant nonessential items would have to wait until money became available, possibly after the county holds another bond election next year.

"We were hopeful we could do all those things, but we can't," she said.

Unless the impasse between the two governments is resolved, the county will keep the remaining $987,000 in restoration money and roll it over into any bond money that Fort Lowell preservation receives in the next bond election.

But that might be too late to preserve the historic structures.

"We're in the monsoon season. These are adobe buildings that are 130 years old now and in desperate need of protection and rehabilitation," said Demion Clinco, president of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation. "It would be disappointing to see a parking lot stand in the way of preservation work."

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at ddaronco@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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