Community groups voice opposition to zoning changes

Proposed zoning changes in the downtown code would change frontage regulations and building code regulations for utilities, causing concern for many community advocacy groups. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Seven community groups raised concerns over proposed zoning changes in the downtown code that would change frontage and public utility building regulations.

The groups sent a letter to Mayor Greg Stanton and city council opposing the changes which made up a larger amendment to the downtown code which regulates planning and zoning.

Under the proposed changes, the city would have more space to build public utility buildings. It would also allow for alternative frontages to be approved with just staff review.

The changes were met with pushback from the Downtown Voices Coalition, Urban Phoenix Project, Roosevelt Row CDC, Midtown Neighborhood Association, the Roosevelt Action Association, Evans Churchill Neighborhood Association and the Phoenix Downtown Neighborhood Alliance.

The letter called for a rejection of the section surrounding public utility buildings and alternative frontages because of concerns over the lack of regulations.

“These were the two sections that would have the most impact, and unfortunately it would be a negative impact,” Sean Sweat, president of the Urban Phoenix Project, said.

The item was scheduled to go to the Downtown, Aviation, and Transportation Subcommittee Wednesday, but that has changed due to the letter.

City of Phoenix Planning and Development Director Alan Stephenson said Monday that staff will recommend a continuance on the item. If continued, Stephenson said the item would be pushed to next month’s agenda.

“It’s really advocating for all the stakeholders to come to the table, that’s the city, that’s developers, that’s the community, and come up with a strategic approach,” Sweat said. “We have tight spaces, we are trying to achieve certain things and we have to be strategic about it.”

The proposed frontage change would mean that city officials would be able to review and approve alternative or abnormal frontage designs without public hearings. It would also allow developers to appeal a decision made by staff, but not neighborhoods or community groups. This was a focal point of the letter’s complaints.

The groups that opposed the amendment felt it would take away their abilities to speak out against frontages on projects they did not agree with.

“Phoenix citizens deserve transparency and due process, so this is unacceptable,” the letter read.

The community groups in opposition called for more regulation and standards for any alternative frontage, and requested public hearings for them as well.

The update would also allow public utility buildings to be added as public land use. The groups felt the change would leave public utilities unregulated. The letter called for a more “strategic approach to location, design and implementation.”

Sweat said utilities on sidewalks or in large stretches can reduce the walkability of certain areas, leaving nothing but stretches of public utility buildings where nothing else can be built.

“It’s overly permissive and not at all looking forward in how we want to deal with utilities,” Sweat said.

The proposed change to the frontage approvals would line up with what is currently allowed under the walkable urban code language.

Sweat said he hoped the city would look at other potential options. In some cities, he said, utilities are placed underground or under parks where they remain out of the way from public space.

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