Jefferson Park residents involved in the fight against mini-dorms finally have something to be happy about, after two months of mediation between the residents, the city of Tucson and developer Michael Goodman.
On Wednesday, Sept. 28, lawyers representing the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association and Goodman were notified by Craig Gross, of the city's Planning and Development Services Department, that he had issued a new determination on residential zoning and group dwellings.
Gross made it clear that the Goodman mini-dorm developments—which are generally marketed to college students—don't fit the single-family-residence permits they were provided under the city's existing single-family R-1 zoning code. The buildings are, in fact, group dwellings, Gross said.
The request for a determination originally came from the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, and Jefferson Park resident Joan Hall, who asked the Board of Adjustment "to make a determination as to whether the use of certain buildings owned by Michael Goodman known as Goodman developments constituted a group dwelling and was not permitted in the R-1 zone."
According to city code, R-1 zoning in Jefferson Park provides for urban, low-density, single-family residential development, along with with schools, parks and other public services.
R-2 zoning in neighborhoods like Feldman's—another UA-area neighborhood hit hard by Goodman's mini-dorm developments—provides for medium residential density, in which multi-family and single-family residences are permitted.
On March 14, Gross issued a determination that the student-housing developments that Goodman has built in these historic neighborhoods north of the UA were group dwellings, and should not be permitted under R-1 zoning—although the city issued such permits to Goodman to build each of the developments.
Goodman appealed that determination. At a hearing on July 27, Gross ended the proceedings after the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, Goodman and the city agreed to go into mediation.
In the Sept. 28 letter, Gross wrote that a group dwelling in R-1 zoning is now defined as five or more unrelated people who live together in one property.
Goodman's properties have five to seven bedrooms, with a private bathroom for each bedroom, along with two double garages built on the ground floor of each building.
Gross also determined that structures built before Sept. 28 can remain in the single-family zoning areas; so can properties with building plans submitted before Sept. 28. In other words, these properties are essentially grandfathered in.
The city's single-family zoning has never allowed group dwellings in neighborhoods like Jefferson Park and Feldman's—and the significance of Gross' determination is that it isn't a new rule or a new code, but instead supports existing code. Therefore, the ruling may not violate Proposition 207, the Private Property Rights Protection Act, passed by Arizona voters in 2006. Supported by the Goldwater Institute, Goodman and other developers have used the law to threaten the city with litigation, claiming their property rights would be violated if the city were to deny them building permits.
Gross' determination also states that if someone wants to build a five- or six-bedroom house in the Jefferson Park or Feldman's neighborhood, he or she can—but it has to be for a legal family. When someone goes to the planning office to file a building permit, planning staffers are now required to hand over a copy of the determination, explaining that if the builder moves out of the home and leases it, it can only be leased to up to four people who are unrelated, or another family.
According to Bob Schlanger, the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association treasurer, he and other neighborhood activists are happy with the result—but some issues remain.
Schlanger said that he and others involved in the mediation process are unable to discuss specific concerns because of a confidentiality agreement they signed when going into mediation. However, he said that Jefferson Park neighbors are 98 percent satisfied, and that the city needs to further define how city code allows for group dwellings.
He added that the mediation process is ongoing.
The determination from Gross comes after a year-long fight that the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association took on in an effort to stop or at least slow down Goodman's mini-dorm developments. Residents witnessed the character of their neighborhoods change when older homes were demolished to make way for the larger structures; neighbors have claimed that some of those homes were historic properties that should have been protected rather than bulldozed.
"The city had to take responsibility for their inaction," said Schlanger. "It's taken a lot of money on our part just to get the city to do their job."
While Schlanger is unable to go into specifics, Diana Lett, the Feldman's Neighborhood Association treasurer and the co-chair of the Neighborhood Preservation Committee, said that when she heard about the new determination from Gross, she and her neighbors were pleased.
"But it doesn't go far enough," Lett said. "Right now, we want to know how the determination will apply to R-2 zoning (in Feldman's)."
As an example, Lett points out a block in her neighborhood lined with Goodman developments on Adams and Lee streets between Fourth and Third avenues. Eventually, the multi-bedroom structures with private baths were connected to each other by a gate and grouped to share common courtyards and one swimming pool.
"In no way does that conform to R-2 zoning ... The shared swimming pool alone violates that code," Lett said. "We see a need for further action and determination regarding group dwellings, and especially R-2 zoning."
Goodman's attorney, Russell E. Krone of Thompson-Krone, was contacted for comment, but he did not return our call.
According to Gross' letter, Goodman has 30 days to file an appeal if he disagrees with the determination.