Helping Pima County, Arizona, audit its land use codes

A detail from Pima County’s Cultural Resources map. Image from the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

Pima County, Arizona, has made a concerted effort in recent years to improve how it uses land and maintains its infrastructure.

The County already is already working to improve the area’s zoning codes, and the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which works to balance development with preserving open space, has been touted as “one of the best and most comprehensive habitat conservation plans in the country.”

Like many local governments, however, Pima County has faced challenges building and maintaining the infrastructure necessary to support their community. This tasks bears extensive costs and usage of already limited materials and resources. To address these problems, Pima County has begun work on a new comprehensive plan that will be developed in late 2012. The new plan will place an emphasis on sustainability, and all development practices will be guided at least in part by the plan.

To aid these efforts County leaders applied for a free technical assistance workshop from Smart Growth America and in April, our staff together Chris Duerkson of Clarion Associates went to Pima County to present a Sustainable Land Use Code Audit workshop. The workshop is one of 12 types offered through Smart Growth America’s annual awards, and is intended to help leaders identify code deficiencies, barriers, opportunities, and improvements to current zoning code laws.

The workshop started on April 11, 2012 with a presentation for key stakeholders and community members. Everyone in attendance was eager to see Pima County taking active steps for incorporating sustainability practices into its comprehensive plan. On April 12, facilitators met with a group of community stakeholders to discuss strategies for improving the zoning code.

Pima County has been very proactive in creating and implementing sustainable practices, such as creating a voluntary resident green building program for developers, a renewable energy incentive district, and promoting solar power. All of these programs have had a level of success and will only see more success once the comprehensive plan is updated. The Sustainability Land Use Code Audit workshop gave Pima County the tools and strategies necessary for developing a successful zoning code. Materials from the workshop as well as a one-month progress report are available below.

Workshop Materials

Technical assistance