Honors College Dorm

A student walks across an empty lot near North Fremont Ave. and Drachman Street on Friday March 10, 2017. There are preliminary plans for two four story buildings to be built in the area that will be a honors college dorm.

The Tucson City Council has stepped back from what looked like a potential legal fight with the UA over a proposed 1,000-bed, multi-story dorm project.

The major concern of city leaders is whether the University of Arizona, as a state entity, would go through the city’s zoning process and follow requirements for building height, density, parking and traffic impacts in the mostly residential neighborhood just north of the campus boundary where the school wants to build an Honors dorm.

On Tuesday, the council unanimously backed a proposal that did not directly deal with the issue of whether the university will follow the city’s rules.

The council instructed staff to review all plans for the proposed project to identify impacts of the influx of up to 1,000 students living in the large dorm, to participate in any public forums about the project and negotiate directly with the university on a variety of issues that may arise from this project.

It did not, however, eliminate the possibility of future legal action.

City staff has also been instructed to get all of the legal documents filed between the university and the Arizona Board of Regents to try to determine whether the dorm project falls under the city’s legal authority.

Councilman Steve Kozachik has been a critic of the dorm proposal but backed the motion directing staff to evaluate the project before it goes before the Regents for final approval.

Kozachik said there are too many unknowns about the dorm deal between the UA and its private partner, American Campus Communities, to decide whether to take legal action.

However, the proposed project has put a strain on the relationship the UA has with its neighbors, he said.

“It may pass a strict legality test, but it will affect their relationship and their credibility in the community,” Kozachik said.

In addition to representing the ward where the dorm would be built, Kozachik is also an employee of the UA, working in the Athletics Department.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said he is optimistic the UA, now under the leadership of President Robert Robbins, will be a good community partner regarding building a development that meets city zoning standards.

The council decision leaves nearby residents in a legal limbo, waiting to see whether the city will go to court over their concerns. If not, a homeowner’s only recourse would to file an expensive lawsuit against the UA and the Regents to try to stop the project.

The university and the ACC-backed project would span a city block between East Drachman and Mabel streets and North Fremont and Santa Rita avenues, north of East Speedway.

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The UA owns only a portion of the proposed development, with ACC owning the rest of the property.

Under the terms of the deal, ACC would give the land to the university and pay for the construction in exchange for annual rental payments.

Chris Sigurdson, a university spokesman, was optimistic after the council decision. “We are looking forward to working with the city and moving forward,” he said.

Sigurdson dismissed the idea that making the project economically viable for its partner, ACC, would interfere with pledges by the UA to work with the city on zoning and other issues.

“We are in charge of the project, this is largely the UA. ACC is essentially a vendor,” Sigurdson said.

The university is expected to go before the Regents this fall for final approval of the dorm and associated buildings.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson