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Christopher City plan advances

By Julian Lopez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 26, 1999
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After years of complaints by UA's Christopher City residents, university officials have located two tentative sites for family and graduate-student housing.

"There is no single site close enough to campus that will accommodate all of Christopher City residents," said Mark Novak, a campus and facilities planning landscape architect.

One plan will use the parking lot north of Coronado Residence Hall, 822 E. Fifth St., to build an apartment-style complex with about 150 units.

"This location would house a graduate student complex, but we don't feel that it would be an appropriate location for students with families," said James Van Arsdel, UA Residence Life director.

An alternative for relocation of Christopher City, 3401 N. Columbus Blvd., is a parking lot on the corner of North Park Avenue and East 10th Street.

But university officials have been unsuccessful in negotiations with the Tucson Unified School District - which owns the parking lot, Novak said.

Novak added he hopes to bring the facility closer to campus and provide students' spouses and children with university facility use.

"It is very difficult to make the Christopher City population part of an integrated university population," he said.

The complex houses two very different groups of students, Van Arsdel said.

"We have realized that the needs of graduate students and students with families are really quite different," he said, adding that most campuses have two separate facilities for these groups of students.

The University of Arizona's family and graduate student housing project has not seen renovations since 1994, when residents complained of roach infestations and sewage backups that left behind bacteria.

Residents also protested grounds and facilities that were left in disrepair, and mold in carpets which may have caused various sicknesses among residents and their children.

"Ultimately the university cannot afford the up-keep on Christopher City and the students need a better facility," Novak said.

After the 1994 complaints there were significant staff changes, organizational changes and more preventative maintenance, Van Arsdel said.

But Michael St. Paul, a Christopher City resident and former carpet committee chairman, said there were "no dramatic or significant changes after the original complaints."

While Van Arsdel said it was not possible to refurbish Christopher City, it was feasible to rebuild on the land.

"We cannot afford to support an aggressive clean-up program in inexpensive apartments," Van Arsdel said.

Residence Life officials are considering two alternatives in Christopher City's rebuilding, which was originally designed as a retirement community.

"There is not any large tract of land for open development," Novak said.

Although a site closer to the UA campus would be more desirable, the university is looking to place the new site within bicycle and shuttle distance, Novak said.

"We don't know when we will be able to start on new construction," Novak said. "But we will be finalizing ideas and approaching the appropriate neighborhood group about one month."

St. Paul doubted the timeline for Residence Life's plan.

"They have been saying this for years," he said. "They have formed different committees all in an effort to clean things up and rebuild."

St. Paul said new options for the UA land on Columbus Boulevard, where Christopher City now sits, are also being considered.

Generally, when a university property is abandoned, the land goes to auction "as is," Novak said.

"In this case, we are trying to work with the city to rezone to sell the property in a re-zoned condition," he said.

The university would then sell the property and use the proceeds toward the cost of new living arrangements, Novak said.

Students living in residence halls can also expect to see a raise in costs, Van Arsdel said.

"We cannot move from a low cost, low quality location to a high quality market value location," he said.

The plans must go through more evaluation, site assessment and board processes before a specific site will be chosen, Novak said.

The alternatives review for Christopher City is being spearheaded by the Planning and Design Review Advisory Committee.

PADRAC is currently involved in the Memorial Student Union renovation, the Christopher City rebuilding and the Main Library addition, Novak said.

PADRAC, established in 1993, has reviewed about 70 land-use plans and building/open space design projects.

The committee is comprised of professionals in architecture, landscape architecture, and planning, from both the public and private sector.