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Cunningham: Not lovin' McDonalds rezoning doesn't mean NIMBYs run amok

There has been a lot of criticism of the Tucson City Council not approving the McDonald's on 22nd and Alvernon last week. I'd like to explain a little bit about why this happened.

Every property has zoning that determines what can be built on it. If you want to change the zoning to one that increases the intensity of the use, you need to go through a process that involves a zoning hearing. The zoning examiner's job is to reference planning documents, findings of facts and weigh the impact of change in regards to the surrounding area.

For the most part, this is pro forma. A minor change in zoning may generate little interest from neighbors, or sometimes there are few, if any, neighbors to weigh in on it. In this case, the property in question already had a C-2 (commercial) zoning, which meant that on that particular parcel, there were any number of things that could be built. That would have included a McDonalds, by the way.

However, McDonalds Corporation wanted to build something much larger than the existing footprint, and that would have included two drive-thrus. This meant they needed to rezone a nearby parcel that had been zoned residential. In fact, there is a house on it now. This brought up objections from neighbors who had bought their houses thinking they would remain in a residential neighborhood who now found that they would be next to a 24-hour fast food place.

Seventy-one neighbors filed protest letters and six in favor of the rezoning. The zoning examiner heard from them, and also considered the neighborhood plan. He found the rezoning incompatible with that plan and recommended a denial of the rezoning request.

I want to make one thing clear about how this process worked in this case: not agreeing to move a McDonalds less than three quarters of a mile down the road is not a sign that the Council is anti-business, or that there is NIMBYism run amok on the streets of Tucson.

The vast majority, over 90 percent, of the proposals that go through this process are approved. I've worked with both neighbors and developers to make sure that these sorts of controversies get settled before we go to the zoning examiner and a Council vote.

This City Council has made bringing new jobs to this community a priority. The deal that we put together for a new HomeGoods facility is one that you may have read about. We also unanimously approved construction of a new facility for Santé Partners. That's going to be in Ward 2 and will pay 136 Tucsonans an average annual wage of $36,000, with 30 jobs paying over $56,000.

This brings me to why I'm a little frustrated by some of the criticism that I have been hearing. McDonalds is decent employment to many people who are starting out in the work force, but these aren't the higher-wage jobs we should be concentrating on attracting. Since this would have been a McDonalds moved rather than a new one built, these were not going to be new jobs in the community.

The fact that it was a business moving rather than being built brings up another criticism that I've been hearing: that this means that the corner it was planned for will remain a vacant building. That is true. However, moving the McDonalds would have also left a vacant building in the current location on 22nd Street across from Reid Park. There are already several abandoned businesses along that stretch of 22nd. I'm not sure how trading one blighted lot for another would have improved our city.

As I said, the zoning on that corner is already C-2. I find it hard to believe that no one will want to build on such a busy corner.

Paul Cunningham represents Ward 2 on the Tucson City Council.

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2 comments on this story

Apr 30, 2015, 11:15 am
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@Bret Linden,

Cunningham’s mention of jobs is a response to the critics of the decision, not a topic he raised unilaterally. IOW, “they started it” ; )

Apr 30, 2015, 11:05 am
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I thank Mr. Cunningham for this submission. Far too many politicians at far too many layers of government think that explaining their decisions to the constituents is beneath them. So, whenever I see something such as this I am always appreciative of it…even if I don’t agree with all of it. Here’s what I take issue with.

First off, NIMBYism is indeed run amok in Tucson, and has held us back in so many ways. Perhaps NIMBYism didn’t play in this particular case (though to me it sounds as if it did), so Cunningham should have just left that one alone.

The other thing he should have left alone is the mention of job growth. To work in anything about job growth in to any piece where the main subject of the piece is McDonalds is nothing less than absolutely absurd.

All of those things said, and I can’t believe what I’m about to type…I agree with the decision. After I read this piece, I looked up the corner in question on Google Maps. If McDonalds really wanted to, they could make something work on the parcel the way it is now.

Those who wish to criticize the fact that the building would remain vacant should direct their blame to the proprietors of the former business that was located there. Their gas prices were never competitive with the Circle K across the intersection, and they always tacked on a fee whenever you wanted to use a debit card…hardly a crowd pleaser in this day and age. And, that was when they were even accepting debit cards. While I’m sure they blame everyone else, in reality they put themselves out of business.

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