A proposed bill making its way through the Arizona State Legislature (HB2674) has alarmed municipal officials for its potential pre-emption of local zoning authority and regulations. A flurry of protests last week prompted one of the sponsors to place an “indefinite hold” on the measure, but it could return to life later in the session.
In announcing the decision to hold the bill, Democrat Representative Cesar Chavez released a statement saying, “First and foremost I want to validate the concerns we have heard from many people across the state. This bill will go back into the stakeholder process where we want to ensure that all entities are at the table,” Chávez said. “It’s vital that we continue this conversation and focus on working together to address the underlying matter, which is tackling a growing affordable housing crisis and making sure we significantly increase the necessary services for the state’s most vulnerable population.”
The bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by Republican Steve Kaiser.
The bill states as its general purpose that “in exercising its delegated legislative authority, a municipality shall ensure that it provides an adequate supply of housing throughout the municipality by complying with the requirements prescribed in (the bill).”
Fountain Hills Mayor Ginny Dickey was among those to speak out in opposition, sending a letter to the bill’s sponsors and key committee members.
“I appreciate and respect the intent of this effort to address affordable housing but am very concerned about HB2674, which I understand has no obligation to provide for it,” Dickey wrote. “There are ramifications to water supply and waste-water treatment capacity as well as the more apparent effects this will have on residents and businesses. We recently enacted a new practice to increase citizen involvement in our planning, and this law would remove (citizens) and P&Z and the Council, from the process completely. We also have opportunities and goals for our downtown regarding entertainment and other businesses that will be permanently altered should this become law.
“Please do not prevent our ability to make local decisions on these matters. We recognize the importance of having a variety of available housing, but this bill narrows the cause to municipal zoning rather than the many other factors including building supply shortages and costs, short term rentals, investors buying up property with no inspections and with cash, and not enough workers at this time.
“We have changed some zoning in Fountain Hills to increase multi-family, and have several projects online, but their rent will still not be attainable for some people even with the increased inventory. And again, nothing in the bill requires the units to be affordable.”
In a separate editorial statement on page 6A of this edition of The Times State Representative John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills resident and former council member, calls the bill “the most serious threat to our community’s property values and lifestyle that I have witnessed in the past 16 years as your state legislator.
“Nothing in HB2674 would stop investors from buying lots to construct high density multi-family homes and buildings and converting them into short-term rental hotels,” Kavanagh added.
“My fear is that a hybrid coalition of democrats eager to promote affordable housing at any cost and libertarian Republicans who oppose government regulation will coalesce to pass this bill.”
The Town of Fountain Hills issued a press release last week outlining its opposition to the bill.
“House Bill 2674 would establish ‘by right housing’ with no obligation to make them affordable. This means, for example, in the General Plan, multi-family developments would be allowed ‘by right’ in any existing agricultural district, single-family residential neighborhood, commercial district, and all districts supporting single-family dwellings, commercial uses, or mixed uses,” the town release states.
“Multi-family developers could ignore zoning ordinances, design standards, and adopted building codes. multi-family projects would be approved administratively with no public process. This could include multifamily buildings up to 75 feet in some areas. Residents would have zero notice and no opportunity to learn about the project or provide comments. No rezoning or General Plan amendment would be required. The bill would also remove planning commissions from the process and strip local councils of their zoning authority.”
Key concerns outlined in the release include:
*Eliminate single-family zoning.
*Eliminate the citizen review process for residential and multi-family developments.
*Prohibit all zoning district regulations that restrict housing.
*Provide residential developers special treatment and the right to ignore local requirements such as setbacks, maximum heights, and requirements regarding building materials, exteriors, roofs, patios, garages, landscaping, common areas, open space, parking and architectural elements.
*Prohibit planning commissions from reviewing housing projects, getting community input and providing recommendations to local councils.
*Disrupt state or municipal economic development plans by converting commercial zoned property for economic development for by-right housing without regard for the carefully coordinated economic development plans.
There is also some concern that the bill could leave citizens without the recourse of referendum a la the Daybreak proposal in Fountain Hills.
Jack Lunsford of the Lunsford Group, the Town of Fountain Hills’ contracted liaison to the State Legislature and the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, which also opposes the bill, has been following the progress of the legislation closely.
Lunsford said an action by the City of Buckeye as coalesced opposition to the bill and much of the conversation in meetings has centered on growth issues.
“I was also able to interject on behalf of Fountain Hills and illustrate that a one-size-fits-all overlay approach a la HB2674 doesn’t work for (Fountain Hills),” Lunsford said in a memo to Town officials. “Or the other 91 municipalities in the state – illustrating some of the salient points of (Mayor Dickey’s memo to legislators).”
Lunsford stated he believes the bill is in for a difficult time if it reaches the next committee level, or certainly on the floor of the House.
AUTHOR: Bob Burns