Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
The Tucson City Council unanimously voted business friendly twice at last night’s meeting– approving a new Land Use Code requiring fewer parking spaces and approving a billboard along Tucson’s scenic corridor for the Jewish Community Center (JCC).
Parking and the Land Use Code
The Land Use Code changes to vehicle and bicycle parking were contentious at the March 8 City Council meeting. Last night’s discussion was a continuation, but in the interim, a compromise was negotiated. Cyclists and businessmen alike spoke glowingly in favor of the Land Use Code changes and the civil discourse that resulted in the compromise. In a nutshell, the new business construction will be able to provide few parking spaces for cars; in addition, there are formulas which allow for customization in vehicle and bicycle parking.
Tucson’s cycling community is trying achieve a platinum rating from the League of American Bicyclists, a distinction held by only two other American cities. Cycling enthusiasts at last night’s meeting said the new bicycle parking laws will help move Tucson forward toward a platinum rating.
Councilwoman Regina Romero praised the Land Use Code negotiations and said that requiring fewer parking spaces and good bicycle parking will allow for more infill construction, while encouraging the use of alternative transportation.
JCC Billboard and the Sign Code
Last fall, the Tucson’s Sign Code Appeals and Advisory Board (SCAAB), a citizen’s advisory board made up of local business people, denied JCC’s application for a sign code variance. Among other nuances, the current code says a business can have a 50 square-foot sign. The JCC already has one over-sized lighted monument sign with a changing text and wanted to erect a 750 square-foot, changing-text billboard on the south face of their building on River Road at Dodge, at the base of the Catalina Mountains.
The JCC lost the variance case last fall, and their last ditch effort to erect a billboard along Tucson’s scenic corridor was at last night’s Tucson City Council meeting.
Since this was an appeal, discussion was limited to the JCC and any neighbors or concerned parties directly affected by the proposed billboard. Council Members were given the SCAAB’s meeting minutes and all records in advance. The JCC’s president and another representative talked in warm and fuzzy platitudes about how a giant sign will promote the mission of the JCC. (In other words, a changing-text billboard on River Road will help sell their services to commuters whizzing by.)
At first it appeared as if no one was there to speak against the billboard, so… I raised my hand and said, “Well, I’m not exactly a neighbor, but I live directly south of the JCC and will be affected by this.”
I think the City Council hearing on a scaled-back 500-square-foot sign was supposed to be an orchestrated no-opposition, slam-dunk for the JCC, so to have some trouble-makin’ blogger raise her hand gave them all a bit of a pause. (Oh, God, what’s she going to say if we let her have the mike?)
They did let me speak– on behalf of those River Road commuters and the hundreds of Tucsonans who use the Rillito River Path and Brandi Fenton Memorial Park— across the street from the proposed billboard. I said people like me use the bike path for exercise and commuting and frequent Brandi Fenton because of the great facilities and the breath-taking view of the Catalinas– a view that would be spoiled by a billboard. I questioned the size and location of the billboard. The JCC president had said that the sign would be visible only from the Alvernon Way direction (east of the JCC), but I remain skeptical that a billboard that large will not be visible from the park and the river path.
Of course, my pitch for preserving natural beauty over commercial signage didn’t stop the process the steam-roller process. The Council approved the 500-square-foot billboard variance– 10x the sign code recommendation. I know that the JCC believes that erecting a billboard at the base of the Catalinas will help their marketing effort. I believe this marketing move could cause public relations problems and hurt the JCC’s public image– particularly with those who are concerned with environmental sensitivity. With its changing text and giant size, if the sign is too visually intrusive, those River Road commuters and park-goers aren’t going to like it, and that could backfire on them. Only time will tell.
This City Council has now voted twice to allow increased signage along Tucson’s scenic corridor; this is a dangerously slippery slope. Environmentalists– this should be a wake up call.