Proposed Tempe Student Housing High Rise Sees Opposition from Mayor, Council

By Editor June 23, 2016 07:00

By: Saeed Alshamisi

Cronkite Special to

The proposed construction of a 26-story student-housing complex in downtown Tempe received strong opposition from the mayor and city council at the June 9th council meeting.

“I don’t think this is the highest and best use of this land,” said Mayor Mark Mitchell, leading the opposition.

The planned housing complex would include 394 units, up from the 214 originally planned and include retail space on the ground floor.

Though the council spoke favorably of Landmark Construction’s plans for the streetscape and made it clear that it did not have objections to the nearly 300-foot height of the building, the council almost unanimously raised concerns about the purpose of the building, which would house 840 students.

Mitchell voiced concern about the density of the project, which he claimed had been increased over 50 percent from 214 units to 394. He also questioned how this increase corresponded to ASU building 10,000 new beds in 2017 and if any of the units could be converted to condominiums in the future.

Development attorney Charles Huellmantel, of Huellmantel & Affiliates, stressed the involvement of Arizona State University in the project. “Given that it is a university town, we are certainly going to continue to work with ASU and continue to talk about any concerns they might have, but also to take their wise council on how to make the product better.”

Huellmantel emphasized how the exterior design will improve the pedestrian experience because of the significant retail space on the ground floor, the widening of the sidewalks, and upgrading the paving materials with the addition of more trees to produce shade.

“We believe that 7th street becomes an important pedestrian connector. In fact, everything that happens on 7th street will connect to other things,” he said.

Safety was another important issued raised by the council. Mitchell mentioned the dangers of balconies and ASU’s concerns about housing projects that include balconies –  or that are higher than seven stories.

Council Member Kolby Granville asked the staff to draft up a stipulation to have a security plan in place for the complex, noting, “I know that this is usually done in response to problems, but given that this is student housing, my preference would be something that was done prior to being problems. Better to be proactive in a case like this.”

The most vocal critic of the project was Councilwoman Robin Arredondo-Savage, who cited the increased density as well as the project’s change from the intended purpose of housing condominiums and a hotel, to renting out individual beds to ASU students.

“I definitely think that having 840 students in a high rise is just problematic,” she said, “and I will have a very difficult time being able to support the project. I have always advocated for a balance in downtown when it came to housing opportunities… I don’t want to set the precedent, and I don’t want to set the tone that we are going to continue to build a bunch more student housing in downtown Tempe.”

Vice Mayor Corey Woods presented a perspective more favoring of the project. He saw new student housing developments as a way to preserve the integrity of the Tempe neighborhoods.

“The reason that I like the idea of ASU building more housing and private student developers building more housing, because frankly, I think that it’s better for students to live in those areas as opposed to them living in many of our neighborhoods. The reason students gravitate to the neighborhoods is because they didn’t have the housing opportunities and that’s changing now with 2016 products good for the community generally.”

The prevailing feeling of the council seemed to reflect Mitchell’s assessment, who said, “The City Council has been really working hard to change the image of downtown Tempe, to help it grow up, and encouraging a large student housing complex just off Mill Avenue; I think that kind of sets us back when it comes to the vision that we’re looking for in the downtown area.”

The second and final public hearing is scheduled for June 23, 2016.

By Editor June 23, 2016 07:00

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