Student housing raises neighborhood concerns
University Housing's upcoming development, The Grove, has reopened discussions within the Tempe City Council regarding building height and density issues.
The 14-story dormitory, located on Apache Boulevard just east of Rural Road, stirred controversy for some of the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods, said Nick Wood, lead planner of The Grove's construction.
“Their community has to deal with building height,” Wood said. “The Vue is 10 stories; ours is 14 stories. (The neighbors) wanted it not to be taller than the Vue.”
Tempe resident Chuck Buss, 51, said besides ASU's student housing growing in height, residents are unhappy about the towers being so close to residential neighborhoods.
“Many of my neighbors on Lemon Street already have a view of the Vue project, which is 10 stories," Buss said in a Jan. 10 Tempe City Council meeting. "I'm going to have a much better view of this building, being almost 50 percent higher."
Wood said the community was told about the plans months ago when he held a neighborhood meeting and knocked on numerous doors in the surrounding neighborhoods to explain the plans for a new building.
“We knocked on 240 doors; 109 people actually answered the door,” he said in the meeting. “We explained to them exactly what our project does. We showed them pictures, told them about the height, told them about the density, number of beds, everything.”
Campus Crest Communities, The Grove's development company, received 61 letters of support for the new building.
Ten of the 109 people were not in support, and six of them verbally expressed their concern for the new building plans, Wood said.
Buss said his neighborhood was never visited during Wood's door-to-door explanation. He said his and other neighborhoods were not represented in the height and density discussion.
"(Wood) didn't bother to come a mile away to where we live and ask what we thought about (The Grove)," Buss said. "I have yet to find a single neighbor that was even talked to."
Wood said approval from neighbors was not needed because under Tempe's General Plan 2030 the designated area of construction allowed for the height and density planned for The Grove.
“The city's general plan designated this area for tall buildings and lots of density. ... (It) allows the vision of this type of building,” Wood said.
The General Plan 2030 allows for buildings to be constructed in areas surrounding ASU with no limit on height or density, Councilman Kolby Granville said.
If plans are approved, building developers can construct towers reaching 30 stories or higher.
The Grove is located in one of these sections stretching from Rural Road to Dorsey Lane and from Eighth Street to Apache Boulevard.
“Homes will eventually back up to high buildings because Tempe's master plan allows this to happen," Granville said. "I fundamentally disagree with that."
On the nearly two-acre site, developers plan to build 326 units, bringing in more than 400 students per acre.
Granville said expansion close to neighborhood borders is an important issue the council needs to address.
Councilwoman Shana Ellis said the city of Tempe is planning and constructing more high-rise buildings.
She said the unlimited height for Tempe buildings was discussed almost seven years ago. The council consisted of completely different members and different ideas about construction along the streets near campus and surrounding neighborhoods.
“The council needs to have a discussion for height in general and where height is appropriate,” Ellis said. “This was last discussed in 2006, and we need to talk about it again.”
She said a council committee and ASU have discussed expansion, building height and density. However, it has not been determined when expansion will stop nor how high or dense buildings can be.
Tempe resident Phil Amorosi, 55, said residents are concerned with not only the height, but the number of students who will disrupt the neighbors.
“We've already seen the increase in young people, graffiti, vandalism and drugs and alcohol,” Amorosi said to the council.
He said residents were under the impression that the unlimited height and density allowed for this area's construction was not intended for student housing.
"The developers are taking advantage of this," Amorosi said. "It was for extraordinary projects, not student housing projects."
With dorms being built closer to neighborhoods, residents have grown concerned about how far ASU is willing to build.
“Maybe that's the plan — make us all so miserable we'll all sell, and then it can be the city of giant student housing,” Amorosi said to the council.
ASU handled many of these situations with neighborhood complaints in the past, especially those toward fraternity homes.
“Ten years ago, ASU began the process of demolishing frat houses,” Granville said.
ASU responded to the continuous underage drinking and drug use at fraternity parties by taking control the houses and evicting the students. The University vacated the last fraternity from Alpha Drive in March 2011.
Granville said the city council is taking these resident complaints about The Grove seriously.
“We've been working with ASU in trying to address this,” he said.
ASU owns properties in Tempe, and building plans for these properties, such as The Grove, do not need to be approved through council, Granville said.
Granville said many of these planned dorms are designed and constructed under developers separate from ASU. They're bought, constructed and often sold to another company to manage the building.
This makes it difficult for ASU to control the students and their interactions with the surrounding neighborhoods, Granville said.
“But this developer for The Grove holds all of their properties," Granville said. "They're someone who's paid for it, who's learned what works and doesn't."
Campus Crest develops and manages student housing buildings all over the country and, Granville said, does an excellent job in managing the property.
Wood said despite these complaints, Campus Crest is still planning the construction for The Grove in 2014 and plans to have the building ready to house students in fall 2014.
“Zoning is not a right, zoning is a privilege. ... Privileges have to be earned,” Wood said. “We have earned the approval for this project. We've worked very hard in order to earn that.”
Despite a 7-0 vote to adopt the amended plan for The Grove, Buss told the council the tall buildings are not what residents envisioned for the city years ago.
"As more and more of these buildings come up in that area, I'm going to see less and less of the sunset,” Buss said. “I guess that's a thing of the past.”
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @whitneyparis10