The architect of the proposed development next to the Benedictine Monastery fielded questions from a packed crowd Thursday night, including how to avoid having its proposed apartments become occupied by students.
It was the first public hearing in a rezoning request for the site.
Architect Corky Poster responded that marketing and advertising efforts can affect what sorts of tenants are recruited.
But, “I can’t tell a 22-year-old engineering student, ‘You can’t live here,’ ” he said.
Poster told about 150 people who showed up at the Benedictine chapel, 800 N. Country Club Road, that he and developer Ross Rulney want to protect the monastery. He said they will include feedback from neighbors on the final design of the project, which would include market-rate apartments and possible retail use of the monastery building.
The duo wants to build three structures around the monastery with heights taller than currently allowed but stay within the 222 units now allowable.
Other concerns voiced by the audience included traffic impacts, especially on Country Club Road and Tucson Boulevard; and that there might be overspill parking into surrounding neighborhoods.
On those points, Poster said it’s too early in the process to address every concern but that there will be mitigation proposals as the zoning request moves forward.
Responding to a question about what would happen if the rezoning is not approved, Poster reiterated that his firm would not be part of the project because under current zoning it is entitled to be a student housing development, which is not his specialty. His expertise is in historic preservation.
One neighbor said she thought the developer should move ahead with what is currently allowed and not set a precedent for future developers who might want to build tall structures in the neighborhood. But another neighbor responded that he didn’t want to risk seeing the developer unable to move forward, leaving a boarded-up monastery sitting in ruins.
Thursday’s meeting was the first step in seeking the rezoning. The developer cannot submit any project plans for review with the city until neighbors have had the opportunity to give input. Notes from those meetings become part of the application to the city’s planning commission and to the mayor and council.
Rulney originally planned to build two structures north and south of the monastery, 85 feet tall, and one on the east side at 55 feet tall.
Those plans have since been modified to 66 feet and 45 feet, respectively, with concessions that include eliminating the parking garage along the eastern border, prohibiting student housing, preserving and rehabilitating the monastery, and saving both the perimeter oleanders and an avocado tree.
The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration closed the monastery in September 2016 and sold it to Rulney last year for $5.9 million.
The nearly 80-year-old monastery was not protected from demolition by historic listing because having it listed would have reduced its sale value.
Last month, City Councilman Steve Kozachik initiated the process of making the monastery a historic landmark.
That process requires several steps, including review by the City Historic Preservation Office, review by the zoning examiner, public hearings and a legal analysis.
The next public hearing will be Aug. 15 at the city’s planning commission meeting.