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Some leave, some plan to fight big UA-area student complex

Some leave, some plan to fight big UA-area student complex

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Currently, the only thing on the site of the former YMCA is a big hole, but a developer is planning a dorm-style complex on the site. The city has yet to give its final approval to the project.

Janet Burner has lost her will to fight development behind her restored 1880s adobe home.

She lived through the ground-shaking, wall-cracking demolition of the old YMCA on East Sixth Street.

She battled the would-be developer of luxury condos on the site over lot lines, heritage trees and the height of the proposed building.

She lived with a big foundation hole surrounded by a chain-link fence for four years after that proposed development melted down along with bundled mortgages, financial institutions and the rest of the housing market.

This time around, with a new developer planning to build a 500-bedroom dorm-style complex on the site, she has thrown in the towel.

Her home is in escrow and when the developer, Valeo Companies, closes on the deal, it will be torn down.

"I am very sad that they are tearing down another historic building," said Burner, who has used the building at 326 E. Fifth St. as home, studio and gallery for Sabino Stoneware Pottery since 1985. She bought the house, then a duplex, in 1976.

Burner, who teaches sculpture and ceramics at the Tucson Museum of Art, is searching for another home and studio.

Neighbors to the west of the old YMCA are also selling out to Valeo, as the city mulls a waiver of zoning requirements for the parcel as part of the Downtown Area Infill Incentive District - a special zone designed to lure high-density buildings to the major streets leading downtown.

Councilman Steve Kozachik, who represents the area, said he doesn't expect the neighbors to be happy about the new five-story building on the edge of the historic West University Neighborhood.

"Their objection is, 'I don't want to live next to 500 students,' " Kozachik said.

But Kozachik says the site is an appropriate one for high-density housing. It is on a major street with access to the proposed modern streetcar line.

"Where is an appropriate place to build these things," he asked, "if not on a major arterial?"

The District, as the project is called, will offer furnished apartments and provide students with a pool, coffee bar and parking garage.

It is half a mile from campus and smack in the middle of the commercial district of North Fourth Avenue, with many entertainment options aimed at students.

Kozachik said he has held several meetings with neighbors and the developers, seeking to make the project more amenable to the folks who will live alongside it.

Traffic will be directed south to Sixth Street and not through the neighborhood, he said. The five-story building will step down to three stories where it is closest to homes. "They've made some adjustments that mitigate the impact," Kozachik said.

Burner said she decided not to fight this time because she's feeling her age, even though she was recently chosen as one of the "emerging artists of the year" by Phoenix Home and Garden Magazine.

"It took me 40 years to emerge," said Burner, who celebrates her 64th birthday today.

She is satisfied with the $400,000 the developer is paying for her home, but not with having to move or with the project itself.

"I don't think it's a good move on the city's part, to tell you the truth. It's going to be a huge thing for traffic and noise," Burner said.

The infill-district rules allow the project to skip the rezoning processes that would normally be required for its increased height and density and its zero setback from the East Sixth Street frontage.

After a required neighborhood meeting, held in October, review by city staff and a public comment period that ends Monday, it can be approved by Development Services Director Ernie Duarte.

The West University Neighborhood Association has objected to the plan as written because of the scale of the project - its size, its density and the lack of adequate setbacks from neighboring properties, said Richard Mayers, vice president of the association.

It will consider an appeal to the mayor and council if the project is approved - a process that will cost nearly $1,000, Mayers said.

Mayers said the neighborhood objects to the accelerated rules of the Infill Incentive District. Normally, such a project would require rezoning hearings and an amendment to the neighborhood plan, he said.

He said his neighbors recognize the need for infill but "not if it sacrifices the edges of neighborhoods."

Duarte will make a decision after he reads all the comments, said Jim Mazzocco, planning administrator for the department.

That decision can be appealed to the mayor and council.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158.

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