Tucson, UA at odds over planned honors college - Tucson News Now

Tucson, UA at odds over planned honors college

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The University of Arizona and the city of Tucson appear to be closing in on a deal that will allow the school to build an honors college just north of the main campus, between East Drachman and East Mabel streets.

The structure would encompass two entire blocks and include a 1,000-room dormitory for honor students.

According to the university, it would be a village concept that would have classrooms, a gymnasium, and dining facilities.

Early design shows it may also be six-stories tall, the tallest structure in the neighborhood and a violation of city zoning codes.

That is what has led the city to voice concerns about the college in a residential neighborhood.

The university, however, under 1960 case law, could be exempt from zoning and construction ordinances under certain circumstances. In order to be exempt, the university would have to own the property, which it doesn't now.

One of the two parcels is owned by the university, but the second is owned by a Dallas development company, American Campus Communities, which would build the college. The project can't proceed unless the property is conveyed to the university.

However, an attorney for the university said that is being negotiated as part of the deal. But until that is done, the city still has concerns.

"If the university does what it says it's going to do, we can probably work this out," Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said.

The city is still contemplating a lawsuit because it believes the project is subject to zoning laws under the present circumstances.

"The only way this works for us as a state institution, the property would need to be ours, the project would need to be ours and we need to be in charge of the Honors College," said Chris Sigurdson, vice president of University Communications. "I'm fairly sure that's the only way the project goes forward."

The city also has other concerns about neighborhood stakeholders.

Following a 1-hour executive session, Ward 1 Council member Steve Kozachik said the city staff would review "the drainage reports, traffic impact analysis, and similar project reports to offer comments to UA regarding mitigation measures relating to the impact of the development."

If the project goes forward, the city wants to have some oversight.

The U of A would like to have the project completed by Fall 2019, which means it needs to submit the plans by September to the Arizona Board of Regents for approval.

The city says it will withhold a decision on the legal standing of the zoning issues until the land conveyance is complete.

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