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 signaled Tuesday it will fight the UA on any end run around local zoning rules in its plans to build a new 1,000-bed honors dorm.

If the University of Arizona and its private partner, American Campus Communities, want to build the project along three city blocks just north of campus boundaries, they will have to immediately begin to work within the city zoning regulations, a letter drafted by City Attorney Mike Rankin stated.

The council voted unanimously to send that letter to university officials, the Austin, Texas-based student housing developer, and the governing body of Arizona’s public university system, the Board of Regents.

The proposed six-story dorm would span a city block between East Drachman and Mabel streets and North Fremont and Santa Rita avenues, north of East Speedway. The UA owns only a portion of the proposed development, with ACC owning the rest of the property.

Chris Sigurdson, a university spokesman, said the UA is continuing to work with the neighborhood association and with homeowners in the project area.

“Moving forward, we certainly would work in close cooperation with the city and the residents and comply with all applicable laws,” he said.

However, “all applicable laws” is a hotly contested term as the university may not be legally obligated to follow the city’s zoning rules as a state-run entity.

City Councilman Steve Kozachik said ACC attempted to go through the regular zoning process four years ago, showing a nearly identical proposal to area residents in 2013. It faced stiff resistance for a six-story dorm and several other buildings.

Kozachik said he believes the project coming out of the university is a second attempt to move forward with the project without a public process.

The project might not look the same if it went through the zoning process, he said, adding that plans to open the dorm in the fall of 2018 are ambitious. “They need to go through the process like everybody else does,” he said.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said he hopes the council’s action on Tuesday will at least spark a dialogue between city and university officials on the proposal.

Diana Lett, neighborhood preservation committee chair for the Feldman’s Neighborhood Association, said she was pleased the city has stepped in.

Simply put, she said, there is a right way and a wrong way to work with the neighborhood on new projects.

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


Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.