Tempe proposal would ensure vacant-land owners maintain property
By Dianna M. Náñez The Republic | azcentral.com
Thu Mar 7, 2013 9:12 AM
Tempe landowners who have allowed weeds and dirt to overrun their vacant lots soon could be forced to plant a few flowers and clean up the city eyesore.
Councilman Kolby Granville discussed his proposal during a council strategy session last week to amend the city’s zoning and development code to target certain undeveloped properties with fines and financial incentives.
The change would target vacant land, including sites zoned for commercial, residential or industrial development, in high-density areas, such as downtown.
Granville said that improving the look of vacant lots would benefit businesses and people in those pockets of the city where landowners have allowed undeveloped property to deteriorate.
The idea was brought before the council after being hashed out over the past few months in Granville and Councilman Joel Navarro’s Neighborhoods and Education Committee.
Large vacant lots should have a minimum border of landscaping to maintain the quality of the neighborhood, Granville said. He argues that reducing the eyesores in regions like downtown would decrease vacancy rates and increase rents.
“I don’t want Tempe to be the flea market of development,” he said. “Ultimately, the success of Tempe is the quality of the product we provide to developers, and by having the most livable attractive city we can, we are providing a higher-quality product.”
The goal is to create an incentive and cost-effective mechanism for landowners to improve their properties, while allowing the city to fine developers who refuse to maintain their lot.
Under the proposed code, lots are considered high density in the city’s General Plan if they are in areas that have a projected density of 26 or more dwelling units per acre. Vacant lots in these areas that are considered deteriorated would be deemed nuisances.
To encourage the landowner to improve their property, under the proposal, the $344 fee for a landscaping plan would be waived. Additionally, when the vacant lot is developed, Tempe would reduce the development fees by as much as 50 percent, not to exceed two times the amount paid for landscape improvements.
If the proposal is approved under the existing nuisance code, which is handled by code-enforcement officers, it would be a civil sanction with a maximum fine up to $2,000 per day for each property, Interim City Attorney Judi Baumann said.
During the economic downturn, deteriorated vacant lots have created a ghost-town effect on entire blocks, Granville said. He suggested the proposal may spur private-public partnerships if landowners work with non-profits to build temporary community gardens.
The proposal drew criticism from some council members who were concerned that the city may be punishing landowners who have not been able to develop their properties because of the down economy.
“Is this good business?” Navarro asked interim Community Development Manager Lisa Collins, who presented the proposed code and zoning changes at the strategy session.
Collins said that Tempe has about 167 acres of private land that would potentially be affected if the changes were approved. The city owns about 33 vacant acres that would need to be improved under the proposal, she said.
Collins said that the city does not currently have a mechanism to force developers to maintain their vacant lots.
“If this ordinance were in place, these people would be required to do something or have a non-profit do it for them,” she said.
Councilman Corey Woods said he wants to ensure that fines do not discourage development. However, he argued that the proposal is worth further study because it would “protect the people who live here and pay taxes” and deserve to have their city maintained.
The council agreed to have city staff analyze how much revenue, under the proposed changes, Tempe would lose in development fees, the budget for landscaping applicable to city-owned land and the extent and type of landscaping that would be acceptable to improve vacant lots.
Tempe Center for the Arts
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