Phoenix Rising: Planning committees give zoning power to the (local) people

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The Central City Village Planning Committee is the primary citizens forum for zoning decisions in downtown Phoenix. (Ryan Boyd/DD)
The Central City Village Planning Committee is the primary citizens forum for zoning decisions in downtown Phoenix. (Ryan Boyd/DD)

The city of Phoenix’s urban village planning system can be a double-edged sword that provides local residents with the power to either shape a better future or fortify the status quo.

The zoning process in the city of Phoenix consists of 12 steps, which culminate in three public meetings: the Village Planning Committee, the Planning Commission and the City Council.

Of particular importance, the Village Planning Committees are the main forums for residents to shape the development of their neighborhoods. Through working with city staff on text amendments to the zoning plans and handling variance requests, the committees can guide what kinds of buildings can be developed, how landscape is planted to provide shade, how much parking is provided and even the general height of buildings in an area.

Barring a large, organized outcry by average residents, these committees wield great power as the legitimate voice of the village in zoning decisions when the final decision is made by the City Council.

In the Central City Village, which is bounded by McDowell Road and Rio Salado Parkway on the north and south and State Route 143 and Interstate 17 on the east and west, the Village Planning Committee has been extraordinarily active compared to other committees as concerns over the impacts of new development are hashed out.

In Grand Avenue and in the Central City South, there are grave concerns that what has happened in Roosevelt Row with what feels like a near-endless boom of luxury apartments will spread into their adjacent neighborhoods and push out longtime residents.

For others, Roosevelt Row’s current incarnation is just one of many redesigns that the area and the city have gone through in its path to urbanization.

Both views are simplified for the time being. There are innumerable perspectives as developers bemoan from the varied, sometimes mutually exclusive feedback they can receive at neighborhood meetings.

However, the ultimate goal of almost everyone, from those who take a militant tone in Los Angeles to those who are noticeably more laid back about the issue in Tucson, is to improve the quality of life for residents of their neighborhoods. This improvement is often not accomplished without some investment and collaboration with developers.

Appeals to the character of a neighborhood can be well warranted when projects are destructive to the fabric of the urban core, but we must seek to work together with developers as it is very easy to abuse regulatory powers to essentially stop all potential change.

As noted before, federal housing policies often distort the real estate market away from urban mixed-use development. Further, local regulations can stunt potentially worthy projects as shown in the death of California Governor Jerry Brown’s effort to streamline regulations to construct affordable housing.

RELATED: Phoenix Rising: D.C. and downtown housing

Here in Phoenix, it has long been a goal to construct a vibrant urban core, but that has often been stinted by carve-outs for existing suburban preferences of residents throughout our 571-square-mile city.

A report approved in 1994 amending the concept of the Urban Village Model suggests Phoenix move toward urbanization, but ultimately encourages suburban ideas by providing exceptions so the unique characters of villages could justify retaining secondary cores, single family housing in cores and the creation of auto-dominant community and regional service areas.

These exceptions allow our 15 villages to often ignore one another so that, for example, the development of the Downtown Code was not halted by my suburban homeland of the Deer Valley Village. On the rare occasion where Phoenix must move as one, such as in the ongoing debate over regulating the spacing of group facilities, the Village Model allows both urbanites in Central City Village and strict opponents in Alhambra Village to have their voices heard.

Ultimately, urban ideals are not universal. The power of autonomy granted by the urban village model must be constantly monitored so that we are not lured into the comforting stagnation of attempting to preserve everything the way it is nor foolishly believe that we can remake the world in our own image.

Ensure your voice is represented in development and visit the Central City Village Planning Committee on second Mondays at 6 p.m. at Emerson Court, located at Seventh Street and Palm Lane, to maintain this representative balance of power.

Contact the columnist at raboyd2@asu.edu.