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Guest opinion

Durham: Why I voted to OK 'Partners on 4th' development on Maloney's site

At the City Council meeting last week, we considered an application for a Planned Area Development, or PAD, to permit a developer to build a mixed-use building (housing, retail and commercial) on a 1.7 acre site now occupied partly by Maloney's. The site is just north of the underpass at the south end of 4th Avenue and faces the railroad tracks to the southwest. The streetcar maintenance facility is to the west, on the west side of 5th Avenue.

Building heights would be lower, 30 feet, on the side facing 4th, stepping up to 160 feet on the west side facing the railroad tracks across Stevens Avenue and 5th Avenue. The tallest part would be 11 stories. Under the PAD, parking will be one space per dwelling unit and there will be an additional 35 parking spaces for the retail and commercial space. The Infill Incentive Distric (IID) has the same parking requirement for residential units but would require no parking for the retail and commercial space.

I joined with other members of Mayor and Council in unanimously approving the Partners on Fourth PAD and I want to explain why I voted as I did. The IID was originally adopted by Mayor and Council in 2009 and amended in 2015. One of the purposes of the IID was to encourage economic development and denser transit-oriented development within its boundaries, including the area along 4th Avenue. Due to the recession of 2008, the IID didn't have immediate effect, but with the recent economic recovery, we are starting to see proposals for development within the IID achieving the original purpose of the IID.

That doesn't mean we should destroy the character of 4th Avenue to achieve transit-oriented development and I don't believe that will happen—there are a very limited number of sites along 4th Avenue that will support development on the scale of Partners on Fourth and the IID itself prohibits using the IID if you demolish a historic structure. True, the developer in this case pursued a PAD because one of the buildings they proposed to demolish was an historic structure. But it was a dilapidated warehouse in very poor condition to the point of being unsafe. Many historic structures are attractive or can be made attractive with a little TLC. This was not such a structure.

I believe the Maloney's site is a good site for the higher density development the IID was intended to encourage and the streetcar needs to survive. The tall portions face downtown, the railroad tracks and the streetcar barn, and it is closer to downtown than almost any other place along 4th Avenue. I also believe 4th Avenue and the businesses located along it will thrive if more people live there and more people congregate in restaurants and shops located there.

The Sun Link streetcar currently requires a subsidy of $4.8 million per year ($3.6 million from the general fund and $1.2 million from the RTA). These are the projected numbers for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2018 and ends June 30, 2019 (referred to as Fiscal Year 2019). The $1.2 million from the RTA continues at that level through Fiscal Year 2022, then it's cut in half for Fiscal Year 2023 and ends then. After that, the full subsidy of the streetcar will need to come from the general fund.

The only realistic way to reduce this subsidy from the general fund is to increase ridership on the streetcar, and the only way to do this is to increase density along the streetcar line. Put another way, if we don't increase density along the streetcar line, we are wasting the streetcar and increasing the risk that the streetcar could become too expensive. I don't want either of those things to happen.

I want to be clear—we don't want development at any cost along the streetcar line and we only want quality development and increased density in the right places. I believe the Maloney's site is one of the few right places likely to be available.

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Paul Durham represents Ward 3 on the Tucson City Council.

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