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Guest opinion

Durham: Why I voted to OK new tower on Palm Shadows site

Last Tuesday, Tucson's mayor and City Council unanimously approved a planned area development rezoning for the northwest corner of the Speedway and Campbell intersection, where the Palm Shadows Apartments currently sits. This project, which is within a block of the Sun Link streetcar northern terminal at Helen Street and Warren Avenue and adjacent to the Banner University Medical Center Tucson, is estimated by the local developer to cost $300 million dollars to construct.

It's planned as a mixed-use project, with a grocery store, other retail and parking on the lower floors. Above that, current plans call for office space and potentially condos, apartments or a small hotel in the tower. It will create jobs during the construction and operation of the building, as well as generating significant revenue for our city through impact fees, construction sales tax and retail sales tax once the building is complete.

The developer is a Tucson resident who lives down the street from the project in the Blenman-Elm neighborhood and the architecture firm is Rick Joy Architects, a Tucson firm with an excellent national reputation. If Tucson continues to grow (and I hope it does, so long as it is through smart growth), while stopping the urban sprawl that eats up the Sonoran Desert and adds miles and hours to our commutes, we have to increase density—to build up and not out.

This is an ideal location for a project like this—it is at a major intersection well served by transit, including the streetcar. It is truly transit-oriented development that will increase ridership on the streetcar and busses. It will provide a retail destination that Tucson residents can walk, bicycle or take public transit to. It will serve as a neighborhood hub and I look forward to seeing it built.

But its height generated some controversy—is Tucson really ready for a 20-story tower at that intersection? Now, the 20-story part of the project is only a slender tower that makes up about 25% of the entire building footprint. But primarily for the reason stated above—if Tucson is going to stop blading our beautiful Sonoran Desert while continuing to grow, we have simply got to increase density at appropriate locations—I voted "yes" on the PAD for the project.

If you'd like more information on the building, including studies of traffic, noise and other impacts from the project, you can access them online.

Paul Durham represents Ward 3 on the Tucson City Council.

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A rendering of the Speedway Campbell Gateway, seen from Helen Street, looking east

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