In the Rincon Heights neighborhood, at the southeast corner of East 10th Street and North Mountain Avenue, sits an old, lovely home. While it is empty and in need of lots of TLC, the house still radiates yesterday’s charm and character.
The house was built in 1897, six years after the University of Arizona held its first class, and once was the residence of Clara Lee Tanner, a pioneering UA archaeologist and Native American art curator.
It’s the kind of residence that enabled the Rincon Heights neighborhood to gain, last February, designation on the National Register of Historic Places.
The neighborhood designation, however, does not protect the adobe ranch home at 1300 E. 10th St. from being razed. Unless it is bought, for the asking price of $400,000, the property owner is expected to build a large, two-story apartment complex for UA students.
To the neighbors, the planned project will scar Rincon Heights and burden it, but to the property owner, it’s a business decision.
“I understand we need to densify, but we need to do it the right way. That’s a challenge,” said Colby Henley, president of the Rincon Heights Neighborhood Association.
Henley, his neighbors and Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik have had discussions with the property owner, Jarrett Reidhead of Tucson Integrity Realty, about preserving the property but to no avail.
Reidhead, a 35-year-old Marana resident, said he plans to tear down the two-bedroom, three-bath, 1,760-square-foot home and adjoining guest house. He then plans to erect four eight-bedroom residences, two stories high, with a pool in the middle, which will house at least 32 people and — if he wants to, because law allows him — up to 64.
“There is a university there and demand for housing,” said Reidhead, a 2003 UA grad who played on the Mountain View High School varsity basketball team.
And developing housing is his business, added Reidhead, who has a total of seven properties in Rincon Heights. Of the seven, three were remodeled and one was torn down, and of the other three, two will be demolished and the remaining one will be remodeled.
He said residents should pool their resources and buy and preserve coveted properties.
These two forces, neighborhood preservation and development, have long clashed in Tucson, especially around the university area, as well as in some of Tucson’s older downtown barrios.
While the city of Tucson has provided some protection for the pressured neighborhoods, and tax laws give owners of old homes some incentive to preserve their properties, these measures are not enough to retain historic structures and prevent multi-unit complexes from taking their place.
If the property owner meets the regulations and zoning requirements, the owner can bulldoze and build big. The result is the slow erosion of homes and structures, erasing the richness of Tucson’s history and character.
“We become a place that people are no longer interested in visiting because it looks like every other place,” said Gretchen Lueck, a resident in Rincon Heights who has also met with Reidhead.
In the petition for the national designation, the Tucson Historic Preservation Office wrote that Rincon Heights provided homes for families associated with the UA and the railroad.
“Interestingly, the lack of deed restrictions within Rincon Heights created a neighborhood with a high degree of racial, religious and ethnic diversity. Today, the neighborhood exhibits an eclectic mix of architectural styles ranging from American Territorial to mid-century Ranch homes.”
Jonathan Mabry, the city’s preservation officer, said the designation on the National Registry does not put any new regulations on the use of private property. In Tucson there are 34 neighborhoods designated on the registry. Rincon Heights is the most recent.
For six neighborhoods, the city has an “overlay,” which sets stricter regulations to make any significant changes to exteriors of historical structures, said Mabry. Rincon Heights doesn’t have the overlay.
It simply has a great location, just south of the UA and east of downtown, and it has what many people look for in its graceful character. It’s why Reidhead and other developers are looking to build apartments in Rincon Heights and other older areas.
The irony, of course, is that the development of large, out-of-character buildings will destroy the very charm that makes Rincon Heights special.