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Council approves height increase for Fry's

Posted at 11:32 PM, Mar 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-09 07:18:17-05
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- The Tucson City Council approved a height increase for a proposed Fry's Marketplace on the southeast side.
In a 6 - 1 vote councilors gave Brentwood Development an six extra feet of space, making a change to a neighborhood rule so the store can continue in the zoning process.
Under the Houghton East Neighborhood Plan (HEMP), nonresidential buildings can only be 20 feet tall. However, the project planners wanted the flexibility to have a taller building that could provide the internal space the store will need for offices, employee trainings, etc. 
HEMP was adopted in 1985, and it protects a two-square-mile area about one mile west of the Rincon Mountain Unit of the Saguaro National Monument. According to the plan, the goal is to "guide future development to protect the natural amenities of the area and to enhance existing neighborhoods."  Opponents of the supermarket say city leaders are going against their word by allowing the amendment change.
The proposed store site is on the northeast corner of 22nd and Houghton on a 16.3 acre vacant parcel. According to the proposal, the Fry's would employ about 160 people and would be open from 6 a.m. to midnight. It would include 124,000 square feet of building and two smaller buildings with an associated gas station.
About 100 people showed up to the council meeting Tuesday night for the public hearing which took about 90 minutes. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said 38 turned out in support of the amendment change, with 17 in opposition. For months some neighborhood groups have been working against the development including Linda Schaub with the Houghton East Neighborhood Coalition. She was disappointed by the councilors decision.
"If they open the door for this, you know six feet variance doesn't sound like a lot," Schaub said. "But it starts the incremental degradation of a scenic corridor and the gateway to Saguaro National Park."
Schaub says the neighborhood doesn't want Houghton to turn into Oracle Road with so many developments.
At the meeting speaking on behalf of the Saguaro National Park was Darla Sidles, the superintendent of the park. She says the park is in favor of economical development and they want to see Tucson prosper, but they would hope the neighborhood plans would be respected. Sidles says they believe 20 feet for the building is quite reasonable, and a taller building may negatively impact the scenic corridor and the park.
Supporters of the plan say the store can bring jobs to the area, and will give people in the neighborhood more shopping options.
"I think it's exciting to have Fry's interested in developing in the area," said neighbor Seth Elden. "I understand there's already a store nearby, but I really think it under serves the community."
Fred Yamashita, the Southern Arizona Director for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, told the council the store will bring good, quality jobs to the area. 
"These are the kind of jobs we talk about wanting in a community," Yamashita said.
Linda Morales is a consultant for The Planning Center, the architecture firm helping project planners. She said the lot is the best place for the store. 
Councilor Paul Cunningham said developers would run into further issues down the road, and that the building should not exceed 30 feet. While the store asked for 26 foot rule change, the building could actually be taller with additional parapets and signage.
The only councilor who did not support the amendment change was Steve Kozachik. He said both sides were extremely civil in their discussions, but raised some concerns about buffer zones, drainage issues and other environmental impacts of the building. 
The rezoning process could take months. The city council urged both sides to work together in the rest of the planning.