The University of Arizona's enrollment grows every year, and officials at the institution notified developers there would be a need for 3,000 additional student housing units in coming years.
That prompted development of high-rise student apartments in an historic neighborhood west of campus, and it has brought about a clash with residents of the West University neighborhood.
Residents said they tried to influence the rezoning process that allowed higher-density housing, but opposed it once they learned there was "very little opportunity for neighborhoods to actually engage a developer," said Chris Gans, president of the West University Neighborhood Association.
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Developers said designating an area for student housing could help return the historic neighborhood to owner-occupied status, by moving student renters to the apartments instead.
Students demand housing with modern amenities, said Steve Bus, vice president of Campus Acquisitions, the company developing two complexes near North Tyndall Avenue and East First Street.
"If there’s not adequate modern, furnished, technology-driven, amenitized housing, the student might just as well say I’m going to go to another PAC (Pacific Athletic Conference) school,” he said.
But the neighborhood has learned from its experience with The District on 5th, a student complex that opened in 2012. The lesson is that high-density student housing isn't always compatible with the rest of the neighborhood, Gans said.
"We had a lot of suggestions and a lot of concerns about traffic and the architecture and a variety of other things on that project," he said. "But none of those were actually part of the mix that ended up in the development plan, and so what we have is The District that has traffic problems in the neighborhood and some noise problems," he said.
The neighborhood tried to work with the developers to mitigate some of the negative impacts that Gans described, and got some assurances from the original developer and owner that changes would be made, he said.
"But the city of Tucson didn't get those in writing," he said, and thus, a new owner has not yet agreed to reduce noise and traffic problems.
Developers of several of the complexes said the high-density student housing could end up driving students away from the single-family housing in the neighborhoods.
"It may lower rental rates or lower demand for the houses or the duplexes and such that are 10 to 15 blocks from the university, and it may turn those neighborhoods back into owner neighborhoods," said Bob Kaplan, a principal with PICOR Commercial Real Estate Services in Tucson.
"Perhaps there will be more young people who are working downtown and want to lease, but hopefully it will help strengthen downtown and have more people living in nice neighborhoods near downtown and near the university,” Kaplan said.
That's not exactly what Gans said he is seeing in his neighborhood. Five owner-occupied properties were destroyed for construction of the District, and there are vacancies in the area now, he said.
"I don't think the impact has translated into something beneficial for the neighborhood. We have a lot more traffic, and I think we have a project that for most owner-occupied properties, they don't want to live next to something like that," he said.
That could also mean a potential change in the real estate market, and those associated with the new developments are hearing something similar.
“We’re starting to hear from neighbors that there are homes that used to be rented to students, some of them owned by outside investors, that they’re having trouble leasing and so there are some vacant properties that are going on right now," said Keri Silvyn, a principle with Lazarus, Silvyn & Bangs, a land-use law firm.
The developers should work with the university to try getting faculty and researchers into the homes vacated by students, she said.
"One of the responses to that is the market will figure that out, but I think that as we move forward in this region and in our community, we as the real estate community need to understand that there are consequences,” she said.
Developers said there will be other impacts to the community. In the eastern end of downtown, Capstone Development Partners is building housing for about 465 students in two locations at East Broadway and Fourth Avenue.
The development, called The Cadence, will include amenities that residents of the downtown Armory Park neighborhood have been requesting for years, said Chad Izmirian, Capstone's senior vice president.
"(The development) is going to add a component to Armory Park that Armory Park doesn’t have, which is retail," Izmirian said. "Our development partner, Jim Campbell, is working on bringing a market to our site which is one of the things that Armory Park really wants.”
Among the new housing complexes:
- The District on 5th: 550 N. 5th Ave., 768 students. Opened in 2012.
- Level phase 1: 1042 N. Tyndall Ave., 570 students. Scheduled to open August 2013.
- The Retreat, Park and 22nd Street, 774 students. Scheduled to open August 2013.
- The Cadence, 345 and 350 E. Congress St., 465 students. Scheduled to open August 2013.
- Level phase 2: 1020 N. Tyndall Ave., 390 students. Scheduled to open August 2014.
- HUB at Tucson, 1011 N. Tyndall Ave., 590 students. Scheduled to open August 2014.
- Junction at Iron Horse, 504 E. 10th St., 185 students. Scheduled to open August 2014.
Watch the full interview with Chris Gans: