Arizona Daily Star

A towering student housing complex engulfs his two modest houses.

But a Tucson homeowner refuses to budge.

Is it a sentimental holdout? A financial gamble? Sheer defiance?

"We were as confused as you are about why they didn't want to sell," said Jason Doornbos, an executive for the company building The Retreat, a 774-bedroom complex on 22nd Street between Park Avenue and Kino Parkway.

"We would offer them a price and they would not even respond," Doornbos said of the owners of two houses in the 1100 block of East 23rd Street.

Sixteen other homeowners made deals with Landmark Properties. All but the Valenzuelas.

Records from the Pima County Recorder's Office show the property was transferred to Epifano C. Valenzuela and Josefine M. Valenzuela in October 1950 by Thomas R. Valenzuela and Victoria Valenzuela. The current owner, listed as Frank M. Valenzuela, denied an interview request made through Greg Henderson, who rents one of the two houses.

"I've asked him what the deal was," Henderson said of his landlord. "He just said he didn't know."

Unable to persuade the owner to sell, developers proceeded with the project.

Covered parking will be built up against three sides of Valenzuela's property line. There will be one way in and out.

Twenty-five two- and three-story units are going up behind and on both sides of the homes. Just across the street, another 13 units are going up.

Gates on each side of the homes will prevent access to the student-housing complex, which will have round-the-clock security guards.

Within easy hearing distance will be a 9,000-square-foot clubhouse with a 185,000-gallon pool -likely be a popular hangout spot for the 774 college students expected to move in this summer.

The Retreat is fully leased.

"My preliminary opinion would be that his property value has not gone up, it has gone down," said Steven Cole, a residential and commercial real estate appraiser with Southwest Appraisal Associates. "Obviously, he'll have less privacy and an inharmonious use next to him."

He said if the development had been a public project, the government could have condemned the land and paid off the owner.

"The private sector can't compel that and oftentimes developers will pay a greater-than-market price to assemble the property," said Cole, who has been appraising real estate for 37 years. "But at some point, the private developer begs off and this guy is left with a problem."

If the owner was holding out for more money, Cole said, he "probably overplayed his hand."

Henderson, whose rental home is now in the center of a construction site and soon will be in the center of a housing complex, thinks the whole thing is a hoot.

"I bet there's a good story there," he said with a deep, raspy laugh.

Because he's a construction worker on the housing project, he said the house was ideal - since his past run-ins with the law prevent him from driving just now.

Records show he has been arrested for criminal damage, trespassing and public drinking, although he said he is now focusing on his relationship with God.

Any unease about having 774 college students living around him?

"I was in prison for five years and in there, there's things you've got to deal with," Henderson said. "This is sort of like that."


Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at or 573-4232.