Mega-dorm developer reneges on promises, neighbors fume

But new owners of The District say accord was misunderstood
2013-02-03T00:00:00Z 2013-02-04T16:45:11Z Mega-dorm developer reneges on promises, neighbors fumeDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The developers of a new mega-dorm agreed to help ease noise and speeding vehicles spewing into the West University neighborhood - then sold the development to a new owner, who is now reneging.

Residents of the historic downtown-area neighborhood are now fuming that the sale went through before the promised improvements were done, and that promises were never put in writing or included in the sale terms.

But EdR, the Memphis, Tenn.-based company that bought The District, 550 N. Fifth Ave., insists it is keeping the deal made with the developer. The problem, company officials say, is residents just don't understand what was agreed to.

At a late August meeting with residents and City Councilman Steve Kozachik, developer Campus Apartments Inc. agreed to put up a noise wall, install neighborhood speed humps, modify exits and put restrictions on outdoor pool parties to make the neighborhood more livable.

But none of that was put into a written agreement with neighbors, nor was it in the sales agreement when EdR bought the complex for $66 million in October, just two months after it opened.

EdR will honor what was in the written purchase agreement, said Susan Jennings, vice president for corporate communications. That amounts to a $2,500-a-year grant to the West University Neighborhood Association and repairs to two historic homes. If neighbors want to use the grant to put in speed bumps, she said, that's their decision.

Complaints after 2 weeks

The District on 5th, a 764-bed, 208-unit student housing complex, was the first of a series of planned mega-dorms to open in the university area.

Within two weeks of students moving in last August, neighbors had logged a dozen police complaints about noise and traffic.

Things spiraled out of control so quickly that Kozachik called an emergency meeting between neighbors and the owners. At that meeting, Miles Orth of Campus Apartments promised to install the traffic- and noise-mitigation measures.

After the project was sold, West University Neighborhood Association President Chris Gans contacted the new owners to ensure the promises made to neighbors were intact.

EdR's then-regional director, Jennifer Worsham, told Gans that while her company wasn't fully aware of all the previous agreements, she didn't think it would be a problem.

"I understand the property got off to a rocky start and you all were able to establish a good rapport with prior management," Worsham wrote in an email. "The change in ownership should not alter any changes that were discussed or committed to."

Owner sought 1-year delay

While the loud parties toned down, Gans and other neighbors were concerned about how soon EdR could put in speed bumps to alleviate what they considered the reckless driving of some District residents.

After weeks of emails, neighbors and city officials met with EdR representatives last month. Neighbors and city transportation administrator Jose Ortiz left the meeting believing they had a tentative verbal commitment that EdR would spend $75,000 to install speed bumps by summer 2013. Ortiz followed up by sending the company an overhead photo of the area and a cost estimate.

Shortly thereafter, the company's new regional director asked if it would be OK to delay the traffic mitigation plan for a year.

"If we agree to funding of this project, is it possible to push back until next summer?" Randi-Kay Stine wrote in an email, responding to Ortiz. "We are trying to find the best solution to have $75K of unexpected expense hit the budget and need to keep all options open."

When Gans learned of the requested delay, he told Stine the neighbors wanted the speed bumps installed immediately, saying they feared for their safety due to "the constant flow of speeding traffic in and out of the District, often in the wrong direction on one-way streets." Kozachik also sent a forceful letter demanding the company keep its word.

Different view of promises

The response came not from Stine, the regional director, but from Jennings, the corporate vice president, who said the company will not pay for any speed humps.

Jennings said her company will keep its promises, but has a different view of what was promised.

"EdR and The District on 5th want to be a good neighbor in Tucson, as we are in the 67 other communities in which EdR student apartments are located," Jennings wrote in an email to the Star.

"As part of our purchase of The District on 5th, we agreed to honor the seller's commitment to the West University Neighborhood Association, which was to provide for some upkeep to several historic homes in this neighborhood and to provide a $2,500 annual grant for the next 15 years to the West University Neighborhood Association," she wrote. "We trust the association will put these funds to good use and enhance the West University neighborhood."

Kozachik said he is extremely disturbed by the company's new stance.

"For them to be balking at this is unacceptable. Someone's going to get killed in that neighborhood with students driving like a bat out of hell in and out around there," he said. "It's their residents. They need to step up to the plate and honor the agreements previous management made to these neighbors."

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

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