TUCSON, ARIZONA -- After years of work, public engagement, international consultants and three zoning hearings, Tucson’s Zoning Examiner recommended approval of the Sunshine Mile Overlay District, a draft zoning ordinance that covers both sides of Broadway from Country Club to Euclid. This zoning ordinance is the result of years of hearings and meetings prompted by central neighborhood groups and orchestrated by Councilmember Steve Kozachik related to the controversial Broadway road widening project. The goal was to create a land use tool that would solve the unintended consequences of residual parcels of land after the widening and encourage economic vitality and a sense of place.
Rio Nuevo (RN) has acquired over 40 properties along Broadway and was invited by the City of Tucson to propose zoning changes for the entire two-mile section rather than try to rezone individual properties. With a primary mission of saving the dozens of historical properties along the Broadway corridor, Rio Nuevo retained the renowned Project for Public Spaces group out of New York City to help reimagine what the so-called Sunshine Mile could look like as a modern, mixed use overlay district. Project for Public Spaces is known for their work in Bryant Park, Times Square, San Francisco, downtown Detroit, Atlanta, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Mexico City, and numerous other projects known as a “sense of place”. Simply put PPS says, “imagine a Sunday afternoon, walking your dog, running into friends, people watching and losing track of time”.
Traveling to Tucson often and holding several meetings and walking tours with area residents the Project for Public Spaces published a guide for an eclectic destination of shopping, food, music, and art, along with new residential embracing the historic Sunshine Mile banner. Key to this vision is acknowledging the different buildings and other characteristics within the 2-miles. The Rio Nuevo team includes local zoning attorney Keri Silvyn and her colleague Robin Large, architects Corky Poster, Sonya Sotinsky and Phil Swaim supervised by Project Manager Michael Becherer.
Starting with the sense of place vision, enhanced by volumes of input from nearby residents, city planners, preservationists and developers, the team worked with stakeholders to create four distinct Subdistricts within the Sunshine Mile that require historic preservation but also encourage reinvestment, redevelopment and revitalization. Densification and creating new residential opportunities is also key to the success of multi-modal transit, so high-rise structures are permitted south of Broadway in the existing industrial-zoned areas. The ordinance would allow historic houses to convert to commercial uses, especially food and beverage, creates unique parking solutions and rewards developers that establish affordable housing and multi-modal mobility hubs. Both Lerua’s and Rocco’s restaurants have already committed to locations in the new district. As part of its contribution to the Bungalow Subdistrict, RN relocated seven historic bungalows that would have been demolished.
“This overlay is the product of years of work that prioritizes the preservation of historic 20th century and mid-century modern resources along this important stretch of Broadway. The final product balances numerous community goals and encourages context sensitive development in historic areas with large-scale high density in industrial areas. This is an overlay-based approach within the constraints of existing decades old zoning. Without it we would have another Grant Road outcome with huge sections of Tucson scraped away.” – Demion Clinco, President of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation.
As acknowledged by Dr. Margot Garcia, a central Tucson resident and Chairperson of the Broadway Coalition,“Rio Nuevo has invested in 3 blocks of mid-century modern buildings, adapting them to new uses and saving our sense of place. The SMUOD makes this possible by allowing flexible parking solutions. It also encourages pedestrian oriented infill development that will support future transit developments.”
According to developer Ron Schwabe of Peach Properties:“These overlay districts are important tools because we have a zoning code that is very suburban in its standards and we need to be creating a more urban transit-oriented core, especially along major arterial roadways. The Broadway widening created land use issues with the remnant parcels adjacent to the roadway that would have disincentivized investment. This overlay district is well thought out and creates appropriate development opportunities along the corridor, while also acknowledging the need to create density and opportunities in the industrial areas, away from neighborhoods just off the corridor, to support transit.”
Approved by the Zoning Examiner with no recommended changes, the draft ordinance will now go to the Mayor and Council later this spring. To read the entire ordinance and see the published renderings of the re-imagined Sunshine Mile please go to Rio Nuevo’s website,www.rionueo.org.