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Flagstaff City Council may find itself once again struggling to negotiate with a student housing developer who, by right, can essentially already build what they want.

This time, the center of attention is a development on a 15.14-acre piece of land owned by Pine Canyon at the northeast corner of the intersection of J.W. Powell Boulevard and Lone Tree Road.

The project, proposed by the Austin, Texas based developer Campus Advantage, would consist of a 196-unit development totaling 702 beds, according to documents provided by the city.

The land, designated tract 22, is zoned for high density residential, meaning the land already supports the multi-family buildings that are planned. As such, the development would normally not appear before the city council.

But that is not the case this time.

This is because of an issue with a 19-year-old development agreement between the city and Pine Canyon that means Council may have some influence on the development, a subject discussed at their meeting on Jan. 29.

The situation could allow the council to make amendments to the development agreement that, if Pine Canyon agrees to them, have the possibility of substantially changing Campus Advantage’s project, according to city staff.

The issue appears to be ambiguity in whether the agreement, signed by the city and Pine Canyon in 2000, describes the development as condominiums or not, city planning development manager Alaxandra Pucciarelli told the council.

For example, in one section of the development agreement, when speaking about the multi-family units within Pine Canyon’s land, the agreement refers to the multi-family buildings as condominiums.

In another section, however, which describes how the development "shall" be built, the section is only described as “210 multi-family units.”

“Because that section says you ‘shall’ develop in this way, it could be seen as telling that in that section, it does not reference condominiums and could imply that condominiums were just what was planned by the developer at that time,” Pucciarelli said.

But even that section only refers to how the multi-family housing shall be built, not directly to tract 22. This connection, however, is assumed because tract 22 is the only section that is zoned for multi-family purposes, Pucciarelli said.

“There is this sort of jumping from stone to stone making these logical connections that that’s where it was intended to be located,” Pucciarelli said.

Using that logic, Mayor Coral Evans pointed out that one could make a similar logical connection between the section describing how the parcel will be built and the section describing the multi-family units as condominiums.

But Councilmember Jim McCarthy suggested that despite the ambiguous language, when it comes to what is built and even how the development may be operated, it could be a moot point.

“If the city decided that these needed to be condominiums, the developer could build them as condominiums, which would give him the authority to sell individual units; on the other hand, he could keep all of those units under one company or one person and he could rent them out because condominiums can be rented out,” McCarthy said. “Even though they were condominiums, there would be no legal reason to prevent him from operating them as apartments.”

Councilmember Charlie Odegaard seemed to agree, and said from his perspective, the development agreement stated they were supposed to be condos and Council should reject the proposed amendment.

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But Evans said she was not sure the council should be so quick to dismiss the issue as it could present an opportunity for the council to negotiate with the developer in order to improve the development and lessen its impact on the residents of Pinnacle Pines.

The Pinnacle Pines neighborhood directly borders the land and the proposed development has been controversial with residents, many of whom told Council they hoped there was some way to halt the development.

Mary Norton was one such resident and told the council that the development was not appropriate to the area.

“You have the power to say not this time, not this location and not at the expense of the homeowners,” Norton said.  

But with the rights the developer already has, Council is unable to prevent construction, said Councilmember Jamie Whelan. What they may be able to do is use the ambiguous language regarding condominiums as an entry point into negotiating changes to the development agreement, thus making the project more appealing for residents of Pinnacle Pines, Whelan said.

At the top of the list of residents' concerns is parking, Norton said. Although having 702 beds planned, Campus Advantage has only proposed 541 parking spots.

“These 702 students are each going to need a car to get to their classes, to the grocery store, to entertainment, to recreation,” Norton said. “It will be extremely short of parking for 702 students. There is no parking allowed on Lone Tree, J.W. Powell or Zuni, so this leaves our small community as the only overflow, putting a huge burden on Pinnacle Pines' private streets.”

Vice-Mayor Adam Shimoni also said he would ask for the inclusion of affordable housing and the introduction of as many one- and two-bedroom apartments as possible, as opposed to apartments with four to six bedrooms. This could allow the development to be better suited to families if the number of students in need of housing diminished in the future.

Council plans to discuss the topic again on Feb. 5.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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