Nick Phillips, Arizona Capitol Times | March 6, 2023 | original article
Gov. Katie Hobbs signed her first bill into law on Friday, a measure that will allow cities to set up a fast-track development approval process for some building proposals.
The new law doesn’t actually create the new process anywhere in the state – it just allows municipalities to set it up if they want. Proponents say the legislation could significantly speed up the development process and help ameliorate the rising cost of housing in the state.
In a year that’s already featured lots of partisan clashes and a number of high-profile vetoes, the bill that Hobbs signed on March 3 received broad support from Democrats and Republicans: only three lawmakers in both the House and Senate voted against it. It was sponsored by a Republican lawmaker and signed by the Democratic government.
There are a few other aspects of the law that make it a rare show of bipartisanship.
It addresses housing – one of the issues that officials on both sides of the political aisle have indicated is on the top of their priority lists this legislative session. The sponsor was Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who has been a vocal critic of Hobbs. And the League of Cities and Towns, which represents municipalities and has opposed a number of Petersen’s bills in the past, was on board, too.
Under the new law, cities will be able to authorize administrators to make approvals at various stages of the development process without waiting for a public hearing. Administrative approval could be allowed for site plans, development plans, preliminary plats, land divisions, lot line adjustments, lot ties, plat amendments or final plats and design review plans. The key is that such approvals have to be based on “objective standards” – in other words, they have to be in line with published development standards.
“This bill is aimed at shortening the process” to build new homes, Petersen said during a committee hearing last month, adding that if cities “do this right,” they could use the fast-track process to more than halve the time that it takes to build and get a new house onto the market.
“I think if we can do that, we can make Arizona what we used to be – the state that was known for affordable housing,” he added.
Doug Nicholls, the mayor of Yuma and president of the League of Cities and Towns, said it’s something the League’s members support.
“It does give cities that option that a lot of us want to have to be more aggressive in addressing the housing issue,” Nicholls said in the February hearing, adding that the League will draw up a model ordinance to help cities implement the administrative review process permitted by the law.
Still, the bill makes a relatively narrow change and isn’t viewed as a comprehensive piece of housing legislation. It’s separate from a more expansive housing bill that continued to move through the legislature this month.
A number of Democrats asked Petersen whether the bill would circumvent public comment processes or environmental reviews, but he said the fast-track process won’t eliminate those and most Democrats ultimately favored the proposal. The only ‘No’ votes on the bill came from Sens. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, Anna Hernandez, D-Phoenix and Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix.
The law allows the fast-track process only for developments that meet all relevant zoning and development rules. Projects that are seeking a variance or a rezoning, for instance, wouldn’t be eligible for the new administrative approval pipeline.
Petersen himself works in the homebuilding industry and has long complained about the growing length of time it takes to bring a development to fruition.
Hobbs didn’t make any comments in a letter saying she signed the bill on Friday. A spokeswoman for the governor didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on the legislation, Senate Bill 1103.
Hobbs also signed her second bill of the year on March 3, which made a technical update to the state tax code. The two bills will take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session.
The broader housing bill is Senate Bill 1117, sponsored by Sen. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix. That proposal would dramatically cut back on the regulations that municipalities are allowed to impose on housing development, as well as imposing strict time limits on how long review processes can take.