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ASU Balks at Tempe High Rise Plan

Proposed Mixed-Use Complex Would Bolster City’s High-Rise Landscape

Rendering courtesy of City of Tempe

By Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange

Someone once said, regarding the origins of high-rise construction in Manhattan, if you can’t grow out, you have to grow up. The continuing growth and popularity of Tempe appears to be putting that concept to the test.

On May 26, the City of Tempe unanimously approved plans submitted by The Opus Group and The Sundt Companies for a mixed-use high-rise complex encompassing the block of East University Drive to 7th Street and South Myrtle Drive to South Forest Ave.

The plans detail two residential towers – 20 and 12 stories, respectively – and a 14 story hotel. The apartment towers would consist of 453 units, ranging from studios to 2 bedroom lofts. 215 rooms are planned for the hotel.

More than 20KSF of retail and 10KSF of restaurant space is also planned, as is a 1,000 space parking garage.

A primary design goal of 7S is bridging the modern presence of the project with the area’s historical aspects. Given the neighborhood’s long-standing pedestrian accessibility, 7S will incorporate features like 45KSF of landscape elements to define pedestrian paths and enhance visual appeal.

At the street level, the design includes, “Pocket parks, parklettes, and pedestrian plaza areas.” The fifth floor will feature two landscaped general use amenity areas and one hotel guest exclusive area, while the 20th floor will provide residents with an upper amenity deck.

In keeping with the distinct traditional looks and color schemes of the area, exteriors facing each of the four streets will reflect their historic aesthetics and usages.

By redeveloping an existing urban site, the developers plan to minimize environmental impacts associated with building on a brand new location and take advantage of existing area benefits like ready access to public transit. 7S looks to expand its benefits to the area by providing residents with dedicated parking for plug-in hybrid cars and guests and visitors increased bicycle storage to encourage ridership and reduce automobile impact on the area.

Given concerns about minimizing the heat island effect, the design features light colored materials on the roofs, combined with landscaping and constructing all parking underground to minimize exposed asphalt. Water consumption will be minimized through the use of low-consumption fixtures and an efficient drip irrigation system for landscaping.

Opposition Concerned About Area’s Changing Character

Tempe has seen several high-rise buildings constructed in recent years, particularly in the Tempe Town Lake area and along Rio Salado, changing the once-low-topped skyline to an increasingly urban cityscape.

While Opus submitted documents in support of the new full city block development, some are concerned with the expansion of the high-rise model into the generally 5-story or shorter downtown core and ASU district.

ASU President Michael Crow submitted a letter to Mayor Mark Mitchell expressing concerns about the development. Crow says in the letter that while ASU supports private development and appreciates the quality of the designs submitted, “…is just too tall for that particular location.”

He goes on to say, “…The density and height of buildings should be appropriate to the character and uses of the surrounding community and campus,” and suggests the project would be better suited to the lakefront and Rio Salado areas where high-rises already exist.

However, the planning documents present expanding the shallow zone of high-rises on the landscape, while consciously attempting to not overpower the existing area aesthetics, as a benefit to the project.

Describing the project goals, the development concept summary says, “The building massing has been carefully crafted to avoid monolithic massing over the entire block and to add depth to the skyline presenting a lean profile while respecting environmental orientation requirements.”

Those looking to keep traditional height requirements in the area can expect to face more projects in the future. Since the City is a popular location entirely landlocked by other Valley communities, it has had to accommodate growth by building upward instead of outward.

A concept study originally accepted by the City in 2006 and submitted with the planning documents shows maximum building heights along the Mill Ave. Corridor at 150’ and 200’ for the Urban-Park Transition zone. The Urban Center maximum height is 300’.

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