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N4T Investigators: Tucson City Council approves 45 day suspension of Reid Park Zoo expansion

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TUCSON (KVOA) - The Reid Park Zoo expansion project has been put on hold. The Tucson City Council passed a motion with a 6 - 1 vote Tuesday to “suspend” the project for 45 days.

The motion also directed the City Manager to organize as many community meetings as deemed necessary within the time frame with all stakeholders, including the zoo and citizens against expansion, to find some form of potential compromise. 

The vote came after Mayor Regina Romero issued a statement last week calling for a pause on the project.  

The expansion has been met with controversy. Even though the Council supported and approved a ballot measure in 2017 for capital improvements at the zoo and another vote for the masterplan in 2018, more than 22,000 people have signed a petition against expansion and community members have raised concerns about the outreach done before the 2017 vote. 

In January, the N4T Investigators spoke with Wendy Sampson who filed an open meetings violation complaint with the Arizona Attorney General. 

Her complaint has yet to receive a ruling, last week she supported the mayor’s call for a halt on the project. 

 “This is the first concrete move to really support a halt and develop a process so absolutely it was a huge relief to see her statement,” Sampson said. 

During Tuesday’s meeting, Ward 2 Councilmember Paul Cunningham said he doesn’t regret his previous support of the project but said in the last six months he has become more informed about the land the expansion would take over, the South duck pond and Bernham Hill of Reid Park. 

“I didn’t know how much that meant because this is not my neighborhood park. In the last six months I’ve heard from people all over the spectrum, different backgrounds, economic backgrounds, everybody,” Cunningham said. 

City Attorney Mike Rankin said three contracts would be impacted: the designer, construction company and zoo management. He estimated the costs would likely be at least $65,000 per month of suspension. 

“They have certain costs that will continue to accrue and the City will be responsible for that,” Rankin said. 

The only Councilmember to vote against the motion to halt expansion was Ward 6’s Steve Kozachik. 

“We are not going to get a redesign in 45 days, it’s not possible. There are flood plain issues, civil engineering issues that need to be worked out,” Kozachik said. 

A first community meeting has not yet been scheduled. 

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Chorus Nylander

Chorus Nylander is the Chief Investigative Reporter for News 4 Tucson. He is focused on giving the voiceless a voice and holding the powerful accountable.

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