Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pima County weighs zoning freeze over new law

[Source: Erica Meltzer, Arizona Daily Star] -- Pima County is considering a freeze on rezonings while it figures out the impact of Proposition 207. And when that freeze thaws, developers could face new requirements that will mean higher up-front costs and less flexibility. County officials say that's the only way to protect taxpayers from large payouts under the new law. "It makes zoning potentially a lot more difficult," County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said of the proposed changes. "People complain that it takes a long time and is difficult today, and this could make it even more cumbersome and complicated. But we're the ones who would have to pay the claims from taxpayers' money," he added.

Proposition 207 limits government's use of eminent domain and requires compensation for what are called regulatory takings. That means that when government adopts new land-use regulations — such as requiring land to be set aside for conservation, [historic preservation designation], or limiting the number of houses that could be built — it will have to compensate property owners for the development they didn't get to pursue. The ballot measure passed with 65 percent of the vote.

But what does Prop 207 have to do with rezonings? The new law requires cities and counties to compensate when they take, but it doesn't require them to give anything. So cities and counties still have the ability to deny a rezoning without any consequences. But because rezonings are discretionary, cities and counties often use them as an opportunity to wring concessions from developers. For example, if existing zoning would allow someone to build 20 houses on his property, and he requests a rezoning that would allow him to build 100, the county might grant the rezoning but on the condition he build only 70 houses. Such compromises are common, especially when neighbors object to a project. But Huckelberry said he worries that could be seen as "taking" under Prop 207, meaning the county would have to pay developers for the difference.

[Note: To read the full article, click here. For opposing views on Proposition 207, visit the website of opponents of 207 and website of proponents of 207.]