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The Hub: Phoenix Ave.

The latest rendition of The Hub as seen from Phoenix Avenue, as of December 2015

On paper, it is just another dormitory with 660 students rising five stories.

But in the real estate world, location is everything, especially when the scale is 10 times larger than the neighborhood has ever seen.

That’s the case with The Hub, which developers want to insert into a Southside neighborhood where the biggest residential complexes are two hostels, a homeless shelter and several two-story apartment buildings. It needs a conditional use permit because it will be run as a rooming and boarding facility and rented by the bed.

The Flagstaff Planning and Zoning Commission wrestled last week with the question of scale and concluded there was little they could change under the zoning code. The code has a loophole that does not require a parking space for every bed rented individually, so the developers proposed a total of 265 spaces. The commission added 100 in exchange for a zoning change that will reorient the project’s ground-floor stores and offices to Mike’s Pike, but that still leaves nearly 300 students potentially with cars and no place to park them on-site or off.

The commission’s recommendation will go next to the City Council, which oddly voted 4-3 last week to drop the definition of a rooming and boarding facility from an update to the zoning code. Staff says a new definition with conditions is being developed by a separate task force drafting a high-occupancy housing ordinance. But until then, if a new project similar to the Hub is proposed, neighbors will not have the benefit of a public hearing because no conditional use permit would be required.

Developers of the The Hub contend that even without a conditional use permit, the project would go forward as a standard apartment rental with the same number of residents, but with five bedrooms per unit to reduce the obligation to provide more parking. But given the changes that such outsized projects bring to most neighborhoods, we’d urge the council majority to reconsider and require a hearing, even if it is just until a new high-occupancy definition can be adopted. Core Campus has shown a willingness to make changes on building setbacks and additional parking after meeting with neighbors, and it’s a process that we think is valuable going forward with other projects, too.

The council might also consider convening another task force to supplement the one working on high-occupancy housing. It seems clear that planning for the transportation burdens that oversized complexes place on the existing street system has to include a variety of coordinated alternatives, and most will not be provided by the developer. Congestion is incremental, even though most will be focused on the streets and intersections adjacent to new complexes. But here are some ideas to help get drivers out of their cars the closer they get to those congestion nodes:

 Satellite parking lots on the outskirts of the city: These would accommodate students as well as commuters coming in from outlying neighborhoods. But they would need shuttle bus service by Mountain Line.

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 Shuttle bus service to the airport: With expanded parking, this facility could serve students in need of long-term storage as well as commuters and even snowplayers. Another parking location with a shuttle stop might be Fort Tuthill.

 More Mountain Campus parking: With more spaces in either lots or garages and lower fees, NAU could take some of the pressure off Southside residents besieged by university staff and students parking on their streets. Residential parking permits would speed up the transition.

 More frequent Mountain Line bus service: Only a few routes have 15 minute headways, and only during commute hours. Miss the bus, and you can wait up to a half-hour or even an hour. Cut the headways to 10 minutes on key routes at midday, and workers will be able to do lunchtime errands without needing a car.

As we have noted before, Flagstaff is not going to build its way out its growing traffic congestion problem anytime soon, especially as the Mountain Campus continues to expand. Solutions have to involve more than just street expansion. The sooner the city tackles alternative transportation and outlying parking, the sooner that growth can occur in a more manageable fashion.

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