Board condemns 6th Street houses

By Charles Ratliff
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 12, 1996

Benjamin W. Biewer
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Regent John Munger

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The Arizona Board of Regents approved the UA's request to condemn three properties in the 800 block of East Sixth Street to make room for a new parking lot during their meeting at the UA yesterday.

The motion passed 6 to 1, with Regent John Munger dissenting. He blasted officials at all three universities for spending too much money acquiring property.

Munger said he did not buy into the idea of the expanding university footprint.

"I don't blame the universities," Munger said. "We are giving them the power to go out and acquire property."

Since early this fall, the university has been trying to acquire property along East Sixth Street for a parking lot. But the owners of the three houses on the property do not want to sell for the amount the university offered.

One house, owned by the Contreras family, falls under a grandfather clause and will not be acquired by the university.

"This has been a very controversial issue and has led to a lot of stress for homeowners," said Bruce Wright, UA's director of economic development. He said the UA and homeowners failed to reach an agreement during negotiations this past fall.

He asked the board to condemn the other three houses at 835-837, 841, and 843 East Sixth Street with the added stipulation that Mr. and Mrs. William Kennedy, owners of one of the houses, be granted a life estate to live on the property for as long as they would like.

Wright told the board that the UA would purchase the house at 835-837 and the Kennedys could stay as long as they wished. He said the UA would take possession upon the occupants' deaths or after they move out of the house.

Homeowners came forward during the call to the audience and urged the board to vote against acquiring the property.

"We have tried to negotiate a settlement with the university to continue to live in these houses," Kennedy said. He said he and owner Jay Higgins have ties to those homes that go back to the 1920s.

Kennedy said he was born in his East Sixth Street home in 1929 and that his family's relationship with the Higginses spans three decades.

After the vote, Kennedy told the press that he would not agree to a life-estate clause and had already made his position clear to the university.

He said, "The university would have too much power over the living with a life estate," and called the vote "outrageous."

"We are not going to move," he said. "We are going to take this to an attorney."

Kennedy said the UA and the board will have to exercise their right of eminent domain in order to take possession of the property.

Regent Hank Amos commended Wright and the UA for the way they have handled the situation with the homeowners.

"Sometimes the university gets unjustly knocked down for some of the things they do," Amos said.

The UA also asked the board to approve the acquisition of property located at 1740-1748 East Lester, either through purchase or condemnation. Vice President for Business Affairs Joel Valdez told the board that the property would be used to expand University Medical Center facilities.

Regents Munger and Andrew Hurwitz objected to the wording of the agenda item, specifically "purchase or condemnation."

Munger asked Valdez, "Which is it?"

Hurwitz said, "I'm a little concerned of approving a motion to purchase or condemn."

Munger added, "I'm opposed to doing it coercively by eminent domain."

Valdez told the board that the money used to purchase the land would come from a revolving account used specifically for this purpose. He said that UMC would also put up 50 percent of the purchase price of $383,000, but said an offer of a land swap could also be in the works.

"I don't think it's appropriate for us as a board to spend $383,000 to acquire properties when we can spend that money elsewhere on computers, renovating classrooms or paying our professors," Munger said. "It doesn't make sense."

The motion was made for the UA to continue negotiations to acquire the property. A motion to condemn that property cannot be put on the agenda until the board can meet again in Tucson this March.

The regents will meet again today to discuss and vote on locating Arizona International University at the UA's Science and Technology Park at South Rita Road and Interstate 10. The meeting is at 9 a.m. in the Student Union's Rincon Room.

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