Armory Park solar project gets thumbs-up from neighborhood
Enric Volante ARIZONA DAILY STAR
John Wesley Miller got an earful two years ago
when he proposed building 99 high-tech solar
homes in Tucson's historic Armory Park
feared the 14-acre project wouldn't
blend in. Some worried about unsightly photovoltaic
panels. Others found the original housing designs
too low and squat.
Miller opened his first few model
homes at Armory Park del Sol - and neighbors
gave a thumbs up.
who spent more than 30 years in the herd of
builders who leapfrogged away from downtown,
faces one of the central city's most challenging infill
projects northeast of South Third Avenue and East
he's constructing is much, much nicer than
what he had originally proposed," said Steve
Grede, an architect who reviewed the plans for the
Armory Park Historical Zoning Advisory Board,
which recommended changes in building style.
of our recommendations were listened to and
followed,'' Grede said. "He's just done a marvelous
job of redesigning and making forms and designs
that really fit in."
touted the project as high-tech, old-style
homes, and neighborhood groups and city officials
got behind it as a key to downtown revitalization.
neighbors grew wary again as workers
laid the block walls on the first three models.
they started to go up, they just looked awful,
and some looked out of proportion,'' recalled
Nadine Rudd, a member of the advisory board who
joined other neighbors in touring the new homes last
when they got finished, they looked much,
much better. I think we're very pleased by what we
considering the alternatives:
Apartment-style student housing was among the
higher-density proposals that floated and sank
under previous owners or builders.
be seen is whether Miller, a longtime
solar-energy advocate who helped build Oracle's
offbeat Biosphere 2 project, can turn a decent
profit in a housing industry where time is money.
a deal to buy the site from owner Alan
Levine around November 1999 on a handshake
and a napkin during a meeting at the Rincon
clock ticking, the average development of
conventional, cookie-cutter homes could have
models ready in a year.
took Miller more than two years, what with
seeking permit approvals and variances from the
city's building standards, meeting with neighbors
and redesigning the homes. He also partnered with
Tucson Electric Power's Global Solar Energy
part of a dream. This was not a bottom-line
deal for me," he explained this week.
his profit margin is "probably half" that
of a typical residential development.
has not revealed the precise price mix of
single-family homes, but he said he's making a
sweetheart deal for Primavera Builders to construct
nine or 10 of the 99 homes.
group specializes in making homes
affordable to low-income or working-class families.
rising costs mean buyers will pay about
$110,000 for the least expensive homes - not the
$90,000 he originally announced. They'll range up
still wants the city to waive building fees of
$1,200 to $1,500 for the rest of his homes over the
next two to three years. But the City Council has
not decided whether to lift a cap of $25,000 in
waived fees per infill project.
homes feature photovoltaic panels
linked to the power grid to offset the owner's
overall TEP bill, tankless water heating, thermal
mass concrete walls with exterior insulation and
other energy-saving features.
bills should be only one-quarter to one-third
those of conventional homes - as low as 98 cents a
day on average for some homes, Miller said.
inner-city building is challenging because
traditionally it costs more per square foot to build
new homes than it does to rebuild existing property.
"is to be commended for taking on a project
like this," Grede said.