February 2015 Updates

Southern Arizona Public Works has not had a new post in some time; this is reflective of the author's increased burden running a successful new law firm.  My clients experienced some great successes in 2014, and I will continue providing dedicated and thorough service through the rest of the year. 

The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in an Arizona-based case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, on January 12, 2015. The case involves First Amendment issues relating to speech and religion centered around the Town of Gilbert's sign code. Full coverage of the case appears in many places; one of my favorites is scotusblog.com

As a lawyer who defends the property rights of private citizens against government intrusion, one issue of major concern to me is the public's access to the court system and government in general. I was majorly disturbed recently when I discovered the cost of appealing the decision of a zoning official in Pima County to the Pima County Board of Adjustment is $1,042. Appealing these decisions to the Board of Adjustment is a necessary step to eventually receiving a full hearing in Superior Court, so the fee is unavoidable in practice.  This chart shows how Pima County's fees compare to those in other Southern Arizona counties:

One non-Pima-County-planning-and-zoning official to whom I spoke stated he would like to see these fees increase for his county, so there is some room to argue Pima County is more appropriately charging user fees to the customers for government services. As you can see, though, Pima County's fee is higher than double any other County and is more than three times that of Maricopa County.

A cynic might think this is why Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry can seem so cavalier regarding the zoning rights of county property owners; it is a good bet most people can't afford to challenge him. 

Third Quarter Pima County Planning and Zoning Boards Update

Pima County Seal

This is a now-quarterly report of action taken at the meetings of the Pima County Board of Adjustment, Hearing Administrator, Design Review Committee, and Planning and Zoning Commission. This report also includes important Pima County Board of Supervisors actions relating to land use and zoning. This previous post explains the functions of each county board.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted on September 16, 2014 to continue until the meeting on October 7, 2014, a vote on the recommended amendment to the Major Streets and Scenic Routes Plan.

Navigating the Bureaucracy: Pima County Zoning and Planning Boards

Bureaucracy is a fact of life when dealing with land use, zoning, and planning issues. Whether you would like to modify your family residence or plan a large subdivision, governmental entities will want to have input into that process. Most of the time, development and construction projects are permitted at the department level, through Pima County Development Services, without the need for public hearings. When public hearings are required, your project might appear in front of one of these boards:

Pima County Board of Supervisors Districts

  • Board of Adjustment: The Board of Adjustment hears requests for variances, which are requests for permission to not conform with the zoning code in some way, i.e., if a property owner wished to create an addition to her house that would not be possible without encroaching into the mandated setback. The Board of Adjustment also hears requests for interpretations of the zoning code or appeals from a determination by the Zoning Inspector. Finally, this board has the power to grant temporary use permits, allowing the use of property beyond its permitted use under the zoning code for a limited time. The Pima County Board of Adjustment has five districts, each corresponding to the district of a Pima County Supervisor. 

  • Hearing Administrator: The Hearing Administrator conducts public hearings on applications for conditional use permits. Conditional use permits (or CUPs) allow uses of property that are typically harmonious with the surrounding development but require closer examination before the use is permitted.
  • Design Review Committee: The Design Review Committee (DRC) reviews proposed developments to ensure they meet the design standards for particular zones, such as an overlay zone or a historic district. The DRC can grant exceptions in addition to its compliance review duties.
  • Planning and Zoning Commission: The Planning and Zoning Commission directly advises the Pima County Board of Supervisors. Rezoning requests are heard before this commission prior to a vote by the full Board of Supervisors. 


These four public bodies wield tremendous power and influence, and their approval or disapproval can make or break a project. The decisions of these boards have also a big impact on the larger community, so I will begin to compile a "Monthly Pima County Planning and Zoning Boards Update." Check back in this space for details of interesting projects and proposals affecting real estate in Pima County.