Could the Hub happen again in Southside?
Not if city planning staff and the Flagstaff City Council have their say.
The 591-bed project in Southside used a “commercial block” category in the zoning code that neighbors said was too big and dense for the site.
If changes proposed Tuesday at a council work session had been in place, the Hub would have been required to build five separate apartment complexes on its 2.3 acres, each just 50 feet wide.
One of the amendments offered Tuesday was eliminating the commercial block and instead replacing it with three other categories of buildings that are defined by width and tentatively named “neighborhood flex,” “Main Street flex” and “downtown flex.”
At the meeting, city zoning code manager Brian Kulina said the commercial block building type was a “one size fits all” building that “was not calibrated to individual zones or neighborhoods.”
The height maximums for each zone are included in the zone itself, not in the building type, which only includes width and depth. However, Kulina said the proposed building types could prevent one continuous building across the property, and said if The Hub had to comply with the “neighborhood flex” type, it would have required five buildings with individual widths of 50 feet, rather than a continuous building across the parcel.
A “main street flex” building has a maximum width of 75 feet and a “downtown flex” building has a maximum width of 100 feet.
The Hub, located on Milton Road, Phoenix Avenue and Mikes Pike, was recently ruled acceptable by a Pima County Superior Court judge on appeal of a 3-2 ruling in its favor by the city Board of Adjustments. It spans the T4 and T5 zones, and the portion in the T4 zone fits into a subzone called the “neighborhood 1 open zone.” Some of the ambiguity came because a table that listed allowable building types listed commercial block buildings as acceptable in a T4 zone, but did not account for the various subzones. In another area of the code, it listed commercial block only in the “neighborhood 2” subzone.
There are no T4 neighborhood 2 subzones, open or otherwise, included in the Downtown Regulating Plan.
According to the amendments proposed by Kulina and his staff, a “neighborhood flex” building would be permitted in T4 neighborhood 1 and neighborhood 2 open subzones only, meaning it could be constructed in the area that was debated in The Hub case. “Main street flex” buildings would be allowed in T5 and T6 zones, and “downtown flex” would only be allowed in T6 zones.
The changes brought forward at Tuesday’s meeting consolidate the list of allowable types in allowable zones and subzones to eliminate duplication and ambiguity when a building is listed in one place and not in another. The amendments also include an exhaustive list of zones and subzones with each building type allowed.
Kulina also suggested medium-term and long-term plans for amending the code, which include establishing a rule that requires one building on one lot, consolidating the transect code into one chapter of the zoning code or creating its own separate code rather than including it throughout the traditional zoning code, considering an expansion or reduction to the Downtown Regulating Plan, which is the portion of the city that allows transect zoning and possibly implementing mandatory transect zoning.
A majority of the council requested that Kulina and his staff begin the process of moving forward with the short-term changes, which Kulina said could be ready for approval after the council’s summer break is over in August. The longer term goals could take until the fall of 2018 to implement, he said.
Developers can opt into using transect zoning when building in an area that allows it, mainly in the downtown and Southside areas. Developers choosing to use transect zoning can receive incentives, like a lowered requirement of parking spaces or higher density. However, developers can instead choose to use traditional zoning that already exists in those areas and throughout the city.
Mayor Coral Evans said the intentions behind the incentives of transect zoning, like reducing the number of parking spaces required to encourage walking or public transportation, might have been premature, because the neighborhoods in question do not have essential resources, like grocery stores or pharmacies in walking distance.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilwoman Eva Putzova asked if the city could suspend permits that use transect zoning until the council is finished with the amendment process.
City Attorney Sterling Solomon said a pause on permitting would effectively be a moratorium, and he said the city does not reach the threshold to legally allow a moratorium on permits, which would require a lack of essential public facilities.
At the meeting Maury Herman, the owner of 120 Cottage Place, LLC, which was the complainant in The Hub case, said he would like to see the building types more specifically address setbacks and open space requirements, instead of those issues just being addressed in the zone requirements.
Marie Jones, the president of Stand Up for Flagstaff, which originally appealed the decision to allow The Hub, said she was pleased with the changes to the code that were presented, but said she would like to see all of the “flex” buildings require a mix of uses. She said she would also like to see the “neighborhood flex” type be disallowed in the T4 zone.
Jones said “intent language” in the code needs to be more clearly defined and easily enforceable.
“Flagstaff experienced a devastating outcome with The Hub when intent language was deemed unenforceable,” she said.