Wednesday, July 7, 2010

7/7: A day of decisions for the Tucson City Council

Today--July 7-- will be a day of decisions for the Tucson City Council. It is the last day to decide what will be on the November ballot.

Two major ballot initiatives will be decided this evening-- the changes to the Tucson City Charter, proposed by business leaders in Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC), (1,2,3,4) and a half-cent sales tax to fund "core services" (ie, public safety, street maintenance, and parks and recreational services).

Political theater begins downtown at 9 a.m. with a jam-packed study session.

The Mayor and Council Meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m., also has a full agenda. There will be time for public comment on the proposed city charter changes, the sales tax, and other issues.

Somewhat overshadowed by these two highly publicized agenda items, another issue that is near-and-dear to neighborhoods--proposed changes to the City Land Use Code-- also will be decided tonight. The draft ordinance can be viewed here. Neighborhood activists are concerned about the change to the Certificate of Occupancy ordinance. Here is information distributed by my neighborhood association (emphasis added).

The Mayor and Council will be considering a proposal for a change in how a property owner can obtain a Certificate of Occupancy when reusing an existing structure. If passed, this Certificate of Occupancy "waiver" would permit property owners to lease their commercial buildings without meeting virtually all of the Land Use Code requirements. These non-rules will apply to any commercial property where the owner submits an aerial photograph from 2005 to prove that no additions have been made to the property. The ordinance does not require the city to conduct a physical check of the subject property to confirm this.

We have numerous concerns with the Certificate of Occupancy ordinance which was basically written by those having a financial interest in leasing their properties. Removing 80 pages of Land Use Code requirements for a select group of property owners may have unintended consequences for neighborhoods and existing businesses. Additionally, this ordinance does not contain any credible enforcement provision that will ensure violations are addressed nor does it take in account any past neighborhood concerns about a given site which have not been recorded as past zoning violations.

This is an example of what gets crafted when the process is flawed, both in who has a seat at the table to contribute to the drafting of the ordinance and how an ordinance is evaluated by the Planning Commission.

Basically the neighborhood associations mistrust the businesses who have crafted this streamlined ordinance and want a seat at the table when ordinances that may negatively impact neighborhoods are drawn up. Interestingly enough this same mistrust of business was crystal clear at the Wards 1-5 public hearings on the proposed City Charter changes last week.

It's no wonder that the neighborhoods mistrust business owners-- especially in midtown and downtown historic neighborhoods. The Feldman's Neighborhood, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places, is quickly losing ground and historic homes to Michael "Mini-dorm" Goodman who is single-handedly destroying large swaths of Tucson's historic architecture to make a quick buck by building a "mini-dorm ghetto." Having watched the Feldman's Neighborhood drama makes me skeptical of the proposed Certificate of Occupancy changes.

Have an opinion on any of these issues? Feel free to comment here or better yet, call or write your City Council representative or come to the meetings today!

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