Phoenix Rising: Zoning for inclusivity

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The Central City Village Planning Committee, which meets at Emerson Court, voted 11 to 1 in favor of zoning ordinance text amendment Z-TA-22-08. (Nicole Neri/DD)
The Central City Village Planning Committee, which meets at Emerson Court, voted 11 to 1 in favor of zoning ordinance text amendment Z-TA-22-08. (Nicole Neri/DD)

In the wild weeds of city of Phoenix zoning ordinances, a great debate is igniting over a zoning ordinance text amendment.

Z-TA-22-08’s now-delayed vote in the City of Phoenix Planning Commission in April.

The amendment aims to bring the city of Phoenix into compliance with the federal Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act in terms of zoning for group facilities such as adult day care, assisted living homes and the more controversial sober living home.

Most of the amendment streamlines the language used to define various group and foster homes and does an important job of eliminating discrepancies between the definitions of the Arizona Department of Health Services, which regulates some businesses, and the city of Phoenix’s zoning ordinances, which govern where they can set up.

Throughout January, the amendment was brought to the city of Phoenix’s 15 village planning committees that are used to garner community input on development issues. Downtown Phoenix is represented by the Central City Village Planning Committee, which voted 11-1 at its January meeting in favor of the ordinance.

The main controversy of the amendment is the part of the ordinance that would bring Phoenix into compliance with federal law. The current zoning ordinance mandates an area of separation between various group homes which admittedly serves a valid purpose in ensuring that they do not end up clustering to the point of harming both the neighborhood and the individuals in the facilities.

However, the amount of space for these homes and thus for the people who need their services is dwindling under the restrictive current ordinance. The proposed solution has been to create a relief valve for applications by allowing city of Phoenix staff to make exemptions to the current area of separation if there are physical features like natural mountains or major roads separating group homes.

But instead of examining a common-sense solution to a likely violation of federal law, some have been extraordinarily fearful of the mere possibility of more sober living homes, citing the horror stories of the saga in Prescott. (The town of 40,000 struggled with numerous complaints over a boom in more than 150 sober living homes. The public uproar even prompted the Arizona State Legislature to pass 2016’s House Bill 2107, which allowed local governments to adopt ordinances for structured sober living homes.)

While it is understandable to want to do as much as we can to provide the best conditions for our communities, many of the arguments made from this point of view fundamentally misunderstand the fact that people released from the criminal justice system or struggling with addiction must eventually reintegrate into society unless we are comfortable.

But perhaps most concerning was an appeal by some of our neighbors to take a citywide view on the issue. There is no doubt that this is an issue that needs to be addressed at the city level, but we must voice our own opinion as a Central City Village and not as a colony of any of the other 14 villages.

Downtown Phoenix has been one of the most diverse places that would welcome the businesspeople in the high rises of the core alongside artists in the galleries on Roosevelt Row and even those down on their luck who may be staying at the Central Arizona Shelter Services to mix and mingle in our community. We should embrace this and support this amendment as it goes forward so that the Planning Commission and City Council know that we stand for neighborliness for our vulnerable populations all the time, not just when it is easy and comfortable.

Contact the columnist at raboyd2@asu.edu.

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