Author Archives: Dustin Jones

Dustin Jones

About Dustin Jones

Dustin C. Jones is a Phoenix-based land use attorney and green development champion whose knowledge of land planning, zoning law, LEED, form based codes, cutting-edge development tools and government affairs assists his public and private sector clients to build more prosperous, sustainable and livable communities. He is the author of the popular real estate development blog www.LivabilityLaw.com, and may be reached at 623-326-2675. He can also be followed on Facebook and Twitter.

Green Construction Code, Phoenix, Scottsdale

Phoenix And Scottsdale Adopt Green Construction Code

Phoenix, Scottsdale Green Construction CodeIt has been almost one month since the City of Phoenix adopted a voluntary green construction code to promote energy efficiency and sustainability in construction activities.

A keystone of the code is that both new and old projects can achieve the green standard without paying third-party fees; costly fees can often prevent projects from getting off the ground.

“Those who choose to ‘go green’ will have their projects reviewed and inspected to this standard,” says Michael Hammett, spokesman for the City of Phoenix in a statement. “There are no extra fees for plan review or permits.”

All those seeking certification must follow strict prerequisites before the city will certify the building as “green.” The code was enforced starting July 1 — although it may be too early to tell how effective it has been.

Phoenix is one of the first cities in the nation to implement such a code, according to a statement from city officials.

The city has set its aim high to attempt to mitigate waste and save energy.

The Phoenix Green Construction Code goals include:

  • Encourage the reduction of the building’s eco-footprint
  • Improve indoor air quality
  • 20 percent mandatory reduction of indoor water use
  • 15 percent mandatory reduction of energy use
  • Require that at least two percent of the building’s annual electrical use be produced by renewable energy materials
  • Encourage the implementation of green roofs, brown roofs and reflective roofs
  • Divert 30 percent of construction waste from landfills

The Phoenix Green Code was modeled after the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) and the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) for residential construction, a city news release said.

Commercial buildings will only have one type of IGCC certification, and residential buildings could have up to four, based on the NGBS standard.

This building code was created out of the Phoenix Green Building program and funded by grants from the Department of Energy.

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climate denialism

Climate Denialism Raises Questions, Concerns

One phrase has been popping up all over the editorial columns and blogs in the last week — “climate denialism,” a phrase to earmark our own fear of change for the 21st century. It appeared early this week with Thomas Friedman’s realistic, and somewhat optimistic, opinion piece in Tuesday’s New York Times titled “The Earth is Full.”

 

Friedman’s insight pours into the blatant climate crisis of our times and says we are, in fact, in denial of our own crisis. There is good news. This is the first step towards a shift in our society away from the consumerist model. He gathers his inspiration from Australian author and veteran environmentalist, Paul Gilding, whose new book “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World” goes into depth on climate denialism.

Friedman’s analysis of the book portrays that our recent increase in horrific weather conditions as a clear indicator that we are outpacing our own sustainable growth. According to the article, he says two of our unsustainable feedback loops, economic productivity and expansive population growth, are headed on crash course right for each other.

Back to the good news, Friedman quotes Gilding saying that once that crash happens, “our response will be proportionally dramatic, mobilizing as we do in war. We will change at a scale and speed we can barely imagine today, completely transforming our economy, including our energy and transport industries, in just a few short decades.”

Fair questions arise out of this, such as “Will the climate crisis be this generation definitive war?” and more so, “Will it launch a new stage in the evolution of human’s society?”

Grist, the world’s green news go-to source, has released a blog-like story today as well the denial of climate change. This one focused primarily on the United States’ inability to keep up with sustainable economic practices worldwide.

Traffic Congestion, Ways to Reduce in Phoenix, AZ

Congestion Is Back! But, Can We Outsmart It?

Americans started pinching pennies, driving less and forgetting about traffic during the recession. We became greener because we had to. Now with an economic recovery on the horizon traffic may be back.  The Texas transportation institute released its 2010 Urban Mobility report, which portrays traffic congestion in 439 U.S. Urban areas. INRIX, a leading private-sector provider of travel time information provided the report.

Use public transportation to help traffic congestion“This Urban Mobility Report begins an exciting new era for comprehensive national congestion measurement,” noted researcher Tim Lomax. “By combining the traffic speed data from INRIX with the traffic volume data from the states, we are now able to provide a much better and more detailed picture of the problems facing urban travelers.”

According to the UMR report, as as the economy rebounds traffic will increase. This is unfortunate because 2008 was one of the best years on record for commuters. Americans used mass transit, car sharing and other means to get around the long commutes. Here are some details from the report on the congestion issues facing the United States.

National Traffic Issues:

  • Congestion costs continue to rise: measured in constant 2009 dollars, the cost of congestion has risen from $24 billion in 1982 to $115 billion in 2009.
  • The total amount of wasted fuel in 2009 topped 3.9 billion gallons – equal to 130 days of flow in the Alaska Pipeline.
  • Cost to the average commuter: $808 in 2009, compared to an inflation-adjusted $351 in 1982.
  • Yearly peak delay for the average commuter was 34 hours in 2009, up from 14 hours in 1982.

Public transportation use and roadway operations were highlighted by the as the top two solutions to save consumers money and time.

Public transportation saved commuters 785 million hours of delays, $640 million gallons of fuel and $19 billion in congestion costs. Roadway operation treatments saved commuters 320 million hours of delays, 265 million gallons of fuel and $8 billion in congestion costs. The use of mass transportation had the highest savings to American commuters. It far outreached roadway maintenance and operations.

With the development of high speed rail nationally and the local movements especially in here in Arizona, public transit eludes to be the best way to avoid the headache of commuting by car. It saves time and money.

Tips from the experts:

Researchers recommend a balanced and diversified approach to reducing traffic congestion – one that focuses on more of everything. Their strategies include:Help reduce traffic congestion by adding roadway and public transportation capacity in the places where it is needed most.

  • Get as much use as possible out of the transportation system we have.
  • Add roadway and public transportation capacity in the places where it is needed most.
  • Change our patterns, employing ideas like ridesharing and flexible work times to avoid traditional “rush hours.”
  • Provide more choices, such as alternate routes, telecommuting and toll lanes for faster and more reliable trips.
  • Diversify land development patterns, to make walking, biking and mass transit more practical.
  • Adopt realistic expectations, recognizing for instance that large urban areas are going to be congested, but they don’t have to stay that way all day long.
Green Movement

Top 10 Green Building Trends to Watch in 2011

While we may have just begun 2011, many industry analysts predict that the green building and sustainability movement will rebound in 2011 in spite of the continuing economic difficulties in most developed countries. This overall trend runs counter to the thrust of the overall worldwide recession, but this is due to to the overwhelming public and private sector support for the trend at all levels of government globally.

Here are the Top 10 Trends to watch for in 2011 as noted by many within the industry, including fellow green building consultant, Jerry Yudelson:

1.    The worldwide green building movement will continue to accelerate as more countries begin to create their own green building incentives and develop their own Green Building Councils. More than 70 countries, on all continents, will show considerable green building growth in 2011.

2.    Green building will rebound in 2011 as measured by the new LEED project registrations as a proxy for this growth. “The reduction in commercial real estate building in many countries,” Yudelson said, “was not offset by other sectors such as government, and so the growth rate of new green building projects fell dramatically in 2010.”

3.    The focus of the green building industry will continue to switch from new buildings to greening existing buildings. “The fastest growing LEED rating system in 2010 was the LEED for Existing Buildings program, and I expect this trend to continue in 2011,” Yudelson said. “My 2009 book, ‘Greening Existing Buildings,’ documents the strategic components of this trend.”

4.    Blue will become the New Green. Awareness of the coming global crisis in fresh water supply will continue to grow, leading building designers and managers to take further steps to reduce water consumption to increase sustainability. This will be done in buildings through the use of more conservation-oriented fixtures, rainwater recovery systems and innovative new water technologies.

5.    Green building in the U.S. will continue to benefit from the Obama administration with a continued focus on greening the executive branch. New announcements of a commitment to a minimum of LEED Gold for all new federal projects and major renovations confirm and highlight this macro-trend.

6.    Zero-net-energy designs for new buildings become increasingly commonplace, in both residential and commercial sectors, as LEED and ENERGY STAR ratings become too common to confer competitive advantage.

7.    Performance Disclosure will be the fastest-emerging trend, highlighted by new requirements in California and other states. Commercial building owners will have to disclose actual building performance to all new tenants and buyers.

8.    Certified Green Schools will grow rapidly as part the LEED System. This trend will accelerate as understanding of the health and educational benefits of green schools grows. Already by mid-year 2010, green schools represented nearly 40  percent of all new LEED projects in the U.S.

9.    Local and state governments will step up their mandates for green buildings for both themselves and the private sector. We’ll see at least 20 major new cities with commercial sector green building mandates. The desire to reduce carbon emissions by going green will lead more government agencies to require green buildings.

10.    Solar power use in buildings will continue to grow. This trend will be enhanced by the increasing focus of municipal utilities as they need to comply with state-level renewable power standards (RPS) for 2015 and 2020. As before, third-party financing partnerships will continue to grow and provide capital for large rooftop systems, such as on warehouses. However, we may very well see a slowing of large solar and wind systems as federal grant support, in lieu of tax credits, is phased out.

While we we have already run in the new year, it will be interesting to see how the green building initiative will take shape in light of ever shifting political realities in Washington, D.C.

High Speed Rail

Will Arizona Ever Climb Aboard The High-Speed Rail System?

High-Speed RailLast year, the Obama administration rolled out an ambitious $8 billion program to fund 21st century transportation via high-speed rail (HSR).  U.S. Secretary of Transporation, Ray LaHood, said, “High-speed-rail will be our generation’s legacy.”

This bold 21st century vision of new transportation options promises to revitalize the economy, reactivate the manufacturing sector, create millions of jobs, end the country’s oil dependency, and cut the carbon footprint by epic proportions. But has Arizona climbed aboard HSR? Its California neighbors, frustrated by miles of clogged freeways, passed a $10 billion voter approved bond to begin building an 800-mile system. Anyone familiar with the herculean effort to get light rail approved and funded in Arizona might wince at the thought of laying out a regional high-speed rail system.

Like the 1950s Interstate Highways System of the Eisenhower administration, which linked cities by a series of inter-state highways, this new plan aims to connect cities via rail line. In August, LaHood estimated that “New high-speed trains will link 80 percent of Americans within 25 years, at a cost of about $500 billion.” This includes a 17,000 mile national rail system to be built in four phases, with completion by 2030. It should be noted that the initial cost estimate of the Eisenhower system was $25 billion over 12 years; it ended up costing $114 billion (adjusted for inflation, $425 billion in 2006 dollars) and took 35 years.  Maybe that is why conservative Arizonans cringe.

Phasing In HSRThis said, the visionary map phasing championed by the U.S. High Speed Rail Association follows the most logical sequence for a national system build out — starting with the largest cities in the busiest corridors, then growing to connect those together across the country.  The busiest corridors are known as “megaregions,” none of which are in the Rocky Mountain West. The plan calls for a national system of HSR express lines connecting cities and states into an integrated system. The plan sets high standards for state-of-the-art dedicated track, advanced control systems, elegant multi-modal train stations, and top-of-the-line 220 mph trains connecting major cities. The plan calls for a support network of 110 mph trains connecting smaller cities and towns (such as between Phoenix and Tucson), together with the high-speed system.

Last year, the Obama administration awarded funding to 23 regional rail projects nationally. Neither Phoenix nor any Rocky Mountain West community received any of the funding. This was an unfortunate reminder that Arizona needs to position itself for future federal awards, notes Arizona Department of Transportation rail chief, Shannon Scutari.

“For us to be taken seriously,” Scutari said, “it’s very important that our two major metropolitan areas (Phoenix and Tucson) are building momentum and trying to connect by rail, and for us to show we are becoming a rail state. The key to that effort is to finish a state rail plan.  Without a state rail plan, the federal government will not consider funding applications.

On Feb. 8-10, the U.S. High Speed Rail Summit 2010 will convene in Washington, D.C. to further lay out its agenda. The summit recognizes that many obstacles lie in the path of completing the HSR plan, including:  overcoming partisan politics, ongoing permanent funding support, linking the various different agencies, real estate development opportunities, and integrating regional and local systems.HSR

In light of Arizona’s dependence on real estate development as a major part of its economic agenda, being on board with HSR seems like a “no brainer.” This national movement isn’t merely a trend. Only time will tell whether the train has already left the station  — and whether a stop in Arizona is on the map.

Green Housing

Green Homeowners Can Now Turn To Converted Shipping Containers

“Living Green” has gone vogue and so has finding new creative “out of the box” ways to do so.

Next month, the forward thinking Phoenix-based development firm of UpCycle Living, led by Ashton Wolfswinkel and Jason Anderson, will break ground on a cutting-edge residential community known as Switzer Terrace in the beautifully forested mountain top city of Flagstaff, Ari., utilizing stacked shipping containers.

Recent years have seen eco-friendly developers look for new ways to promote sustainable living, and this new form of housing has emerged as a phenomenal way to reuse these virtual “LEGO-blocks” as modern sustainable modular homes.

shipping_container_homeShipping containers were invented more than 50 years ago, and are certainly recognized as the basic unit in our global distribution network of products. Every commodity imaginable is shipped throughout the world from toys from China, textiles from India, grain from America, and cars from Germany. Yet, these visionary developers, architects and green designers, such as Upcycle Living and green living enthusiasts, are increasingly turning to these strong, cheap boxes as source building blocks to create some amazing modern architectural wonders.

According to the Upcycle Living’s architects, the modified containers are “nearly indestructible,” as well as resistant to mold, fire, and termites. The shipping containers can be readily modified with a range of creature comforts and can be connected and stacked to create modular, efficient spaces for a fraction of the cost, labor and resources of more conventional materials. Some of the recent green living uses include disaster relief shelters to luxury condos, vacation homes, and off-the-grid adventurers.

With its modern lines and appealing spaces, the containers turn heads. Upcycle Living’s forested Switzer Terrace  community  boasts individual 6,000-square-foot lots. One such model includes a two bedroom, 2.5 bathroom, 1,200 square foot spacious modern home with a two-car garage.  This luxury mountainside showpiece is built from four prefabricated, recycled steel shipping containers, along with some traditional building materials. Seventy percent of the building will be efficiently assembled in a shop, saving time, money and resources.

One such configuration includes a home perched on a hillside lot, with the four containers on top of a two-car garage.  Alternatively, the unit could be configured on a level lot with the garage along the side of the home.

On the inside, the home also demonstrates the importance of a livable floor plan and a well-orchestrated flow of space. On the ground floor, this open-plan module contains the living room, dining area and kitchen — and can be entirely open to the outside by incorporating vast windows or enclosed. Classic modern furniture provides comfort and style without taking over the room. The open kitchen, with its gleaming stainless steel appliances, is ideally suited to the love of entertaining the curious green living friends and family. Upstairs, private spaces are more compartmentalized. affordable-shipping-container-homeThe master bedroom at one end of the unit could look out onto a grove of trees (and will eventually have its own private deck).  The simple lines of the office area at the opposite end are highly conducive to concentration. Overall, this Upcyle Living home is a striking example of what can be achieved with a well-thought-out modular system of construction and design that focuses on sustainable living.

Although it is doubtful this new residential community and product will rebound the Arizona housing market, Upcycle Living has clearly taken a giant leap forward in introducing an innovative housing product whose time has come. However, only time will tell whether progressive Flagstaff homebuyers will catch the vision of this truly “out of the box” green living alternative.

downtown Gilbert AZ

Downtown Gilbert Mixed Use Project on Life Support

Phoenix (December 14, 2010) – The Gilbert Town Council has a big decision to make on Thursday with respect to the fate of a proposed downtown mixed use project.

“Heritage Marketplace” is a proposed mixed use development that has long been billed as an important catalyst to revitalization in downtown Gilbert. The 2.7-acre project proposes five buildings comprising a total of 90,000 square feet for office, retail and residential uses. The project may be another unfortunate casualty of the recession which is a huge disappointment considering the 350 jobs and $15 million in annual payroll that town officials estimated to result from the project.  Town officials reported to Council several years ago the essential nature of job creation in any successful downtown redevelopment effort.

A development agreement for the project was executed in 2007 and was since amended last December. The following are some of the key deal points from the agreement:

  • It sets the purchase price of the land at approximately $218,000 per acre.
  • It requires the developer to pay a total of about $1.7 million for the land and an adjacent parking garage.
  • It requires the developer to commence construction by no later than December 31, 2010.
  • It obligates the town to pay $7.6 million for the construction of the 365-space parking structure upon “substantially complete” work on part of Heritage Marketplace.

The Town Council must decide whether to extend the deadline outlined in the agreement or cancel the agreement altogether considering that construction on the project will not commence by its prescribed due date.  To fund the parking garage, the town has already begun the fulfillment of its obligations by selling Public Facility Municipal Property Corporation bonds which do not require voter approval. As a result, the town is paying 5% interest and earning about 1% while the money sits in a bank.  The town maintains that the parking garage remains a vital piece of infrastructure to support future economic growth in downtown Gilbert. The town contends that such a facility helps support the employment densities that will be needed in the Heritage District to make it a viable commercial location.

So now the Town Council has a decision to make. Several options are on the table for this decision, which may involve amending or dissolving the agreement.  The options are as follows:

  • Amend the agreement to extend the construction timeline or to allow the town to build the parking structure before Heritage Marketplace is constructed.
  • Dissolve the agreement and wait until the market improves to advertise the land to a new developer, begin the search for a new development partner, or commence work on the parking structure without a current development partner.

Read more at Livability Law

Ahwatukee Residents See Hope for South Mtn Freeway Alignment

Ahwatukee Residents See Ray Of Hope For South Mtn Freeway Alignment

Phoenix metro Loop 202 Phoenix (December 10, 2010) – Ahwatukee residents are not enamored with the current Loop 202 plan in which a freeway cuts through their community and South Mountain. Those plans can change if the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) Tribal Council decides in January to recommend a possible extension of Loop 202 on reservation land south of Ahwatukee Foothills.

Officials from the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the GRIC transportation technical team have been meeting since August to discuss freeway alignment alternatives.  Between now and January, GRIC members will attend meetings at which they can voice opinions and ask questions about the possible extension of Loop 202 on reservation land.  Tribal officials, including Gov. William Rhodes, have said the primary motivation for this alignment alternative discussion is not economically driven but rather about protecting the ecology of South Mountain.

homes in Ahwatukee FoothillsAhwatukee residents were encouraged to hear that GRIC’s freeway discussion is moving forward because the current plan involves taking out a church, more than 100 homes in Ahwatukee Foothills and 64 homes in south Phoenix, and cutting through three ridges in the South Mountain preserve.

Phoenix Metro South Mountain FreewayA series of meetings are scheduled to take place before the wish of Ahwatukee residents may be granted by a vote of the GRIC Tribal Council in January. The first community meeting took place Saturday in Gila River’s District 6 south of Ahwatukee and Chandler. Community members who attended the meeting reviewed maps of the current planned alignment – a 22-mile eight-lane freeway that would connect Laveen to Chandler through Ahwatukee and South Mountain Park - and a new plan to build the freeway about one-half mile south of Ahwatukee on reservation land.  Community members presented several questions and comments, including concern for the cultural and economic impact of the freeway altogether as well as the related impact upon people in terms of things like air quality.

Upon completion of the community meetings, the Tribal Council will either vote on whether to approve the freeway alignment or defer the issue to a ballot in which the community at large will make the decision.  Either way, Ahwatukee Foothills residents are encouraged by the ongoing discussion and the willingness of GRIC to consider this freeway alternative from the current alignment which they have been actively opposing.

Read more at Livability Law…

South Mountain Park - and a new plan to build the freeway
Land Swap between Gilbert Charter School and SRP

First Of Its Kind Land Swap Ends Battle Between Gilbert Charter School And SRP

Phoenix (December 10, 2010) – Who says that you can’t beat city hall? An effective group of Gilbert elementary school parents and residents took on that challenge…and won, with the cooperation of SRP.

Salt River Project logoSRP had plans to install the Finley Substation, a two-bay substation with 69-kilo volt power lines, on a vacant lot located on the northwest corner of Baseline Road and Monterey Street in Gilbert. The lot is located immediately north of the playgrounds for Edu-Prize School, Arizona’s first charter school.  The result of an 18-month long battle between school parents, the City of Gilbert and SRP is a land exchange deal with the utility that affords SRP the opportunity to construct the facility farther away from the school.

Edu-Prize SchoolEdu-Prize School parents and school administrators have been actively crusading against the substation with a Facebook campaign, meeting with state legislators and circulating petitions that they presented to the Gilbert Town Council with about 1,000 signatures. Their concerns with the proposed substation stem from fear of health risks from exposure to electromagnetic forces upon the 1,200 kindergartners through eighth-graders that attend Ed-Prize and enjoy the playgrounds that are located in close proximity to the initial substation site.  Before co-founding the Gilbert charter school, Superintendent Lynn Robershotte taught for eight years at Frost Elementary School. It was located near high-tension wires, which Robershotte blamed for a handful of cases of childhood leukemia, brain cancer and neurological problems.

The issue of these concerns is one on which the two sides agree to disagree. Despite the school community’s concerns, SRP has always maintained that its substations are safe and pose no harmful effects. SRP has nearly 200 substations throughout the Valley and many are located near schools, day care centers, churches and homes.  SRP often encounters neighborhood opposition to proposed substations for a variety of reasons. This case presented a unique opportunity for negotiation, making it easier for the utility to work with the school on an alternative solution.

Edu-Prize School Parent NewsletterEdu-Prize was in negotiation to expand and essentially bought another parcel of land upon which SRP could build its substation. The company that owns the school’s building bought a nearby lot for $420,000 and swapped it for the proposed substation site. SRP can now build the substation farther away from the school about one-half mile west, on the northeast corner of Merrill Avenue and Marvin Street.  The 1.3-acre vacant lot is still in the same four-square-mile area where SRP said it needs a new substation to meet increased power needs by nearby businesses and homes. This exchange could very well be the first of its kind for SRP.

Read more at Livability Law

Two homeowners from Mesa’s Sunland Village community questioned their homeowners association board

Homeowners Have To Pay HOA $5k Because They Asked A Few Questions

Mesa’s Sunland Village Phoenix (December 6, 2010) – Two homeowners from Mesa’s Sunland Village community questioned their homeowners association board about some of its actions and in return received a bill for nearly $5,000 from the HOA to cover its legal fees that were incurred to provide the answers.

Homeowners Pat Haruff and Barbara Worbington believed that their HOA board was not acting within the best interests of the association’s members. They contacted the board several times with inquiries but later decided to hire an attorney to speak on their behalf when they found a lack of progress in receiving answers to their questions.

homeowners’ attorney submitted a letter to the HOA outlining six complaints about some of the board’s actions and expendituresThe homeowners’ attorney submitted a letter to the HOA outlining six complaints about some of the board’s actions and expenditures, one of which was a $5,500-expenditure to create a non-profit, charitable corporation that would allow the HOA to accept gifts from member estates and other donations without any tax penalties. Haruff and Worbington contend the charity was in violation of state and federal law.  Other complaints addressed the board’s failure to accurately record minutes of recent meetings and the conducting of “mini” closed door board meetings before regular open sessions.

The homeowners did not file suit against the HOA, but the submittal of this inquiry letter to the board’s attorney resulted in a demand to pay $4,867.50 to cover the legal costs the board incurred in answering their grievances.  HOA attorney Jason Smith contends that the homeowners did not follow the procedure of notifying the association of their complaints and this bill for legal costs will help Haruff and Worbington to “fully understand their mistakes and misunderstandings that caused them to assert the baseless claims.” In a response letter to the homeowners’ attorney, Smith further noted a lack of merit to their complaints. “The issues raised were considered to be frivolous and harassing by the board and not designed to better the community or to improve the governance of the association,” he said in his letter.

State Sen. Eddie Farnsworth believes that HOAs serve a useful purpose if operated property. He said the turmoil at Sunland appears to be indicative of a widespread problem among many Arizona HOAs.  As a longtime advocate of restricting HOA powers, Farnsworth often finds the issue to be a difference of opinion between members and the HOA on various matters. Members want access to information and HOAs generally decide that members are not entitled to such information. He has also found a discrepancy between the two sides’ opinions on the matter of a member’s right to question the use of HOA funds. He identifies the crux of the issue to be a lack of transparency and oversight among problematic HOAs.

Former state Sen. Tom Freestone, who initiated Arizona’s first legislative inquiries into questionable HOA practices several years ago, said the association’s claim against the women exemplifies one of the most prolific complaints about many HOAs – their overreaching actions to penalize homeowners with excessive charges for minor incidents.

Read more at Livability Law http://livabilitylaw.com/2010/12/06/homeowners-have-to-pay-hoa-attorney-fees-because-they-asked-a-few-questions/

Arizona Sunset - Future of West Valley

Valley Leaders Join Forces To Envision The Future West Valley

Leadership West LogoOver 100 Valley leaders convened on November 31, 2010 to develop a future vision for the West Valley in an exercise led by Leadership West.  Leadership West is a volunteer-led, non-profit organization that convenes, educates and activates proven leaders in business, non-profits and government to leverage their time, talents and treasures to enhance the quality of life in the West Valley.

Moving AZOne LogoThe “West Valley Reality Check” was free for its participants, thanks to the collaborative effort and partnership between Leadership West and the Urban Land Institute (ULI). The program’s goal was to bring together leaders in government, business, non-profits, environmentalists, educators, neighborhood activists, interfaith groups, tribal and elected officials to focus on a regional approach to shaping our built environment. The event was a continuation of Leadership West’s annual West Valley Summit which was held in March.

By 2050, the Central Arizona region will have an additional 6 million people and 3 million new jobs, many of which will be in the West Valley. This exercise presented the opportunity for Valley stakeholders to influence how the region plans land-use, transportation and infrastructure while sustaining our economy and quality of life.

Leadership West Executive Director, Kathy Knecht kicked off the event by describing the organization as a catalyst for long-term planning in the West Valley.  The Reality Check model was designed by ULI, but this event was the first time where such an exercise was conducted with West Valley stakeholders.  What emerged from the exercise was an overarching theme of municipal and regional cooperation that looks beyond the current economic cycle in preparation for the next wave.

Deb Sydenham introduced the Reality Check model as a great opportunity to work collaboratively and cooperatively to help regions with visioning at least 20 years into the future. Don Keuth presented Valley growth trends and how this exercise will help establish the framework for future growth. Interestingly enough, only about 10 cities across the country have performed this activity but Phoenix is the only city that has done it twice. ULI Arizona’s efforts over the past 3 years have resulted in the “Connected Centers” strategy that promotes growth and prosperity.  These exercises represent a forward-thinking approach to identify a sustainable regional growth scenario and by doing so determine housing types, responsible land uses and a transportation framework.

MapJay Hicks presented the ground rules for the placemaking exercise in which participants use Legos© that represent various levels of housing and employment density and strands of yarn that represent major transportation corridors to identify the region’s growth patterns.  Participants used these tools in their groups to establish a 40-year vision with the understanding of the West Valley’s opportunities and challenges, including jobs, transportation, Luke AFB, higher education and the environment.

By keeping an open mind, being bold and creative and working together to find solutions, the participant groups completed their visioning exercise while maintaining AZOne Reality Check’s guiding principles of preserving open space, supporting current infrastructure by growing along existing corridors, connecting employment and housing with multi-modal transportation, creating new urban centers and infilling currently developed areas, and locating housing near jobs.

The collective group discussed barriers and challenges that might hinder the implementation of these future scenarios as well as policy changes that would be necessary to making the scenarios possible. However, the group clearly identified a need for the West Valley to stay relevant in conversations about regional issues by working collaboratively and speaking as one voice.  Leadership West did not intend this exercise to be the end, but rather the next step in moving this initiative forward by carrying the message back to each respective organization.  The Reality Check exercise provided a forum for West Valley representatives to use regional visioning and planning and discuss how we can promote economic development, plan comprehensive infrastructure, preserve natural resources, create a sense of place in the community, and engage the community and create political will to implement these visions.  Our common goal…leadership.

Mill Ave in Tempe, Arizona

2 Valley Treasures Will Receive A Little TLC

Phoenix (November 29, 2010) – The Tempe City Council recently voted unanimously to move forward with plans to restore Papago Park and Mill Avenue. The Papago Park restoration plans focus on improvements to marketing and park amenities while Mill Avenue will receive some much needed clean-up and landscaping.

Papago Park Master PlanPapago Park Master Plan – The cities of Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale together with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) joined forces to conduct a public planning process to develop a vision and series of recommendations to guide the future of Papago Park as a premier regional park serving these cities and the larger region. Papago Park is situated in the heart of the greater Phoenix Metropolitan area at the intersection of the municipal boundaries of Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale.

master plan is to protect, preserve and enhance the physical, social, recreational and cultural resources the park provides to the regionThe park’s 2,000 acres include recreational open space and a wide variety of privately owned and leased facilities which serve a myriad of users. The intent of the master plan is to protect, preserve and enhance the physical, social, recreational and cultural resources the park provides to the region which will hopefully provide the ingredients necessary to achieve ‘Great American Park’ status.

Papago Park Regional master planThe Tempe City Council recently approved their City’s part of the Papago Park Regional master plan. The comprehensive planning process, embarked upon jointly by the cities and SRPMIC, resulted in a plan that includes measures aimed at restoring key areas of the park and promoting it as a single attraction. The master plan addresses the deficiencies in marketing efforts for the Park, which includes such tourist attractions as the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden which are self-promoted. The Council’s approval includes a plan that proposes signage, advertising and better connections between trails in the park to encourage visitors to see more than one attraction during day trips. Mayor Hugh Hallman focused on the promotion of some of the park’s Native American ruins, which include art and landmarks used by the Hohokam, who settled the Salt River Valley in the 400s. He feels very strongly about the interest of visitors in such sites as Hole in the Rock.

plans to improve Mill AvenueMill Avenue - City Council also approved plans to improve Mill Avenue with the collaboration of the Downtown Tempe Community. A private company that helps businesses on Mill with marketing and outreach, the DTC will soon begin employing crews to clean up trash on the street and remove graffiti six days a week. The DTC crews will double as ambassadors who can answer visitors’ questions and distribute district maps. The City will provide landscape improvements in the medians.

Through this process, DTC and the City have also worked together to address the issues of business owners in the district. Their efforts include distributing a flyer to better illustrate the problems that business owners have with damage, litter, graffiti etc. in order to connect the business owners with the various City or DTC departments that can help resolve those issues which have long been a source of confusion.

Medical Marijuana Where Will The Dispensaries Go

Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Proposition Passes, But Where Will The Dispensaries Go?

Arizona voters made history again this month, narrowly approving Proposition 203, the ballot initiative allowing one medical marijuana dispensary for every 10 pharmacies in the state (which translates to about 120 statewide). Under Prop. 203, patients suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions will be able to buy small amounts of marijuana from state-approved dispensaries with a doctor’s prescription. Those living more than 25 miles from an outlet will be allowed to grow their own.

Needless to say, residents, cities and landlords are facing some interesting dilemmas before the first outlets potentially open in March 2011 … in a neighborhood near you.

Under the approved Prop. 203, the Arizona Department of Health Services must issue licenses to the so-called “medical marijuana clinics,” but it’s the local municipalities that must adopt zoning restrictions that regulate the size and location of such clinics. Cities are expressly forbidden under Prop. 203 from prohibiting them outright.

So who will ultimately win the “Not In My Back Yard” tug-of-war? Cities such as Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa, are grappling with commercial landlords, their constituents and zoning restrictions to keep the centers away from schools, churches and residential areas.

On the commercial real estate front, with the marketplace hard hit by the recession and Phoenix retail vacancy rates at 13 percent, many landlords are looking to fill empty space. But tenants such as medical marijuana clinics would cause some considerable controversy with residential neighbors and fellow commercial tenants.

“There are some landlords that will definitely have an issue with it,” said Pete Bolton, executive vice president and managing director of the commercial real estate brokerage firm Grubb & Ellis in Phoenix.

He expects dispensary operators to seek retail center locations with public exposure and easy parking. But, he added that some commercial landlords are hesitant to sign a marijuana outlet, especially if they have other tenants that cater to families or conservative customers.

Prior to the ballot passing, a number of nonprofit groups already were eying Phoenix-area shopping centers as possible dispensary locations. Even before the election earlier this month, more than 14 medical marijuana groups had reserved business names with the Arizona Corporation Commission. Some others were incorporating and looking for investors, dispensary locations and even growing sites.

Marketing manager for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries of Arizona Inc., Allan Sobol, says that like any other business, location is key.

“I want to be at a high-exposure location. I envision them just being like a CVS or Walgreens,” Sobol said.

He expects most marijuana outlets will be located in strip malls and other high-traffic locations near hospitals and medical centers. But with the dispensaries intermingled with other more conservative businesses, there could be some concerns.

So landlords will have some choices to make, and for Arizona cities facing these same dilemmas, the clock is ticking. Mesa, like Phoenix, will likely vote on where to locate the dispensaries by the end of the year.

This is likely the first time in history that a Mesa mayor has ever joked about collecting sales taxes on bongs or marijuana paraphernalia. But then, it’s probably also the first time in history that Mesa has come face-to-face with the prospect of stores legally selling marijuana. Given its size, Mesa could land between eight and 10 of the 120 dispensaries.

“This is not something we can prohibit,” Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said during a city council study session last month.

Under its proposed zoning regulations, Mesa would limit the dispensaries from residential, industrial and employment areas. Also, they could not locate within 2,400 feet of other medicinal marijuana shops and drug/alcohol rehab facilities. They would have to stay 1,200 feet away from churches, parks, open spaces in homeowner associations and libraries. They could be no closer than 500 feet from schools or group homes for the handicapped.

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble says cities need to act fast.

“Cities can’t wait,” he said. “If they don’t get it done in time, I’ve got no choice but to approve a dispensary if they don’t have a zoning restriction in place.”

In other words, the state bureaucrats will act if the mayors and councils haven’t.

So, while a razor thin majority celebrates the approval of Prop. 203, mayors and city councils around the state not only must act fast, but also wrestle with moral, political and economic issues before the first medical marijuana clinic opens on a corner — possibly in your neighborhood.

Local neighborhood

Can Sustainable Housing Really Be A Part of Arizona’s Future?

Perched on the threshold of economic recovery, cities whose housing markets crashed and burned during the Great Recession are struggling like modern-day Phoenix birds to rise from the ashes.

While rebirth comes naturally for some, others seem caught between a trap labeled “sprawl” and a wide-open window tagged “sustainability.”

The question is, can cities that once embraced policies favoring sprawl over density buy into a new vision calling for a more sustainable, livable and socially just way of life? The shift required may be dramatic, but it’s not impossible.

The sprawl trap is certainly familiar territory for Phoenix, a post-WWII boom town where production builders John F. Long and Del Webb are hailed as the Godfathers of Post-Modern Development. Using innovations like simple, mass-production construction techniques, Long and Webb delivered Phoenix’s first work force housing to an eager middle-class audience.

Now, a half-century later, sprawl and the suburbs are being blamed for everything from global warming to social segregation. High suburban-growth states like Arizona, California, Nevada and Florida felt the busted housing bubble like a sock to the gut two years ago. And, faced with aging infrastructure and higher maintenance costs, fringe communities are now home to the country’s largest and fastest growing poor population, according to a report by the Brookings Institution. Between 2000 and 2008, the country’s largest metro areas saw their poor population grow by 25 percent, almost five times faster than either primary cities or rural areas, the report states.

Many economists believe the country’s latest economic pause presents the opportunity for a massive do-over; a chance for cities to end their love affair with the automobile and hook up, instead, with development practices that create more dense, walkable neighborhoods.

The Obama administration evidently agrees.

“The days where we’re just building sprawl forever, those days are over,” President Obama declared shortly after taking office. He followed up those remarks earlier this year by telling the U.S. Conference of Mayors, “When it comes to development, it’s time to throw out old policies that encouraged sprawl and congestion, pollution, and ended up isolating our communities in the process.”

The President’s willingness to back up his convictions with $1.5 billion in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants and $1 million set aside for regional integrated planning initiatives is further proof that the suburban landscape is indeed changing. So is the federal government’s new Partnership for Sustainable Communities, an all-hands-on-deck approach to smart growth by the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency. It — along with the government’s “Smart Growth Guidelines for Sustainable Design & Development” — presents a radical new perspective on how future growth is handled, and offers a lifeline to municipalities looking to turn over a new and greener leaf.

But, for cities like Phoenix, where density has traditionally been considered a dirty word, the challenge is not so much where the money is coming from, as it is how to change public perception. Will Phoenix, with its Wild West sensibilities and traditionally renegade attitude, take kindly to federal intervention intended to help wean itself from a dependence on sprawling development?

In all honesty, it’s likely to be a tough sell. True, infill development takes advantage of current infrastructure and services and produces a measurably smaller environmental impact than does its conventional counterpart. True, higher-density building creates additional living options for homeowners in the way of row houses, walk-ups and brownstones. And true, Phoenicians, like many Americans, acknowledge they would rather walk than drive, or at the very least, have access to more transit-oriented housing, making it easier and more convenient for them to utilize public transportation.

The first step forward, however, will have to come from developers and municipal leaders willing to reach out a hand and grab the support line being offered in the way of these new smart-growth initiatives and incentives.

“Successfully addressing the challenges and opportunities of growing smarter and building greener will require that communities collaborate with each other, as well as with regional, state and federal agencies and organizations,” write the authors of Smart Growth Guidelines for Sustainable Design & Development. The end reward, they say, is decisions that benefit households in the form of greater choice, lower combined housing and transportation costs and healthier communities, thereby producing stronger local economies.

Isn’t that what communities like Phoenix, that are battling their way out of the recession, really need? Shelley Poticha, a transportation reformer and Partnership for Sustainable Communities senior adviser, thinks so.

“To me this is about helping to rebuild our economy, about growing jobs in terms of making housing more energy-efficient,” she said in a grist.org interview. “It’s also about helping places and regions really understand where their economic future is going and how they can use that to be more sustainable.”

Photo: www.valleymetro.org

Density: Our Ticket To The Green Express

Five years ago, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon courageously announced his intention to rehabilitate a dilapidated 12-mile stretch between the Arizona Capitol and Arizona State University in Tempe.

He appropriately branded the area along Washington Street the Opportunity Corridor and pledged to replace the shuttered businesses, vacant lots and dilapidated trailer parks with new office, biomedical, industrial and developments.

Unfortunately, the recession stepped in before the idea could fully take root and today the Opportunity Corridor is still packed with opportunity, but short on actual redevelopment projects.

That is, unless you take into consideration one major development that occurred in the interim: light rail.

Construction of a light rail line through parts of Tempe, Mesa and Phoenix – including in the Opportunity Corridor — raises critical questions about its potential effect on land use and urban development. But more importantly, light rail presents an enormous (and to date un-tapped) opportunity in Arizona for resident and community leaders to take their eyes off the sprawl ball and focus, instead, on how to build viable development along the track in order to sustain ridership.

Though it’s been considered a dirty word here for decades, density has a place in the Valley. That place is along the light rail.

Like the spine is to the human body, light rail is the backbone of a thriving urban scene. Density is the fuel that feeds the core. To flourish, density needs zoning code changes and public policies that encourage a vertical mix of commercial and residential projects.

In short: light rail begs for compact, sustainable, transit-oriented development (TOD) that promotes walkability and increases dependence on public transportation.

Cultivating density along transportation routes is nothing new. The growth patterns are a throwback to the turn of the century, when neighborhoods, homes and businesses cropped up along streetcar lines.  Post-World War II growth in Phoenix has seen this same pattern spring up along corridors where miles of freeway, parkways and loops were rolled out.  What’s new, at least for metro Phoenix this time around, is a concerted effort by the public and private sector to make it happen along the light rail corridor.

Said Phoenix Community Alliance President Don Keuth, speaking last year at a meeting of Arizona State University’s Stardust Center for Affordable Homes and the Family and HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims: “Different rules are going to come out of Washington that will make doing the ‘same old’ impossible, and if we don’t have a plan to meet these new objectives, then we will be left behind.”

Summing up, he added, “We need to instill ‘spinal courage’ to do something different because we have to. If we don’t, this community is not going to reach its potential.”

The Arizona chapter of the Urban Land Institute, LISC  Phoenix, ASU Stardust Center, and the City of Phoenix have been collaborating to aggressively pursue funding to promote transit oriented development along the Opportunity Corridor.  The recent launch of the amazingly interactive website www.connectingphoenix.com demonstrates the true opportunities that light rail presents for the metro Phoenix region.

These efforts and the efforts of other community leaders have the potential to lay the groundwork for truly sustainable transit oriented development in Phoenix.  It’s only a matter of time before we start benefiting from these efforts and enjoy our Phoenix urban lifestyle experience!

Illustration of suburb with recycle logo

Sustainability Is Possible In The Suburbs. Really.

Is it possible to build a sustainable suburb? The answer depends largely upon your perspective.

Of course, sustainability is a word freely associated these days with eco-friendly building materials, alternative energy and “living off the grid,” and is usually used in conjunction with the concepts of urban living, light-rail and transportation-oriented development. However, some of the first sustainable buildings were lovingly referred to as “land ships,” and built far from cities.

The deserts of Taos, N.M., for example, still host these forward-thinking renegade buildings dating back to the late 1960s and 1970s, and were colorfully branded by many as “crazy hippy stuff.”  And certainly these buildings are a far cry from the buildings and locations we think of as locations of sustainable development today.

Arizona has long been associated with sprawl, and frankly it’s the reason why the sustainable movement has been slow to catch. However, with a struggling economy and real estate development virtually at a standstill, it’s important to think beyond our limited frame of reference. But the suburb? Can it really be sustainable?  Our twin love affair with privacy and the automobile has made the suburb far from a likely place to orchestrate sustainability. Places where garages line streets instead of trees and retail buildings have walls around them virtually imposing a drive instead of a walk. But there is a sustainable sun on the horizon.

Arizona State University’s Stardust Resource Center has created a Growing Sustainable Communities Initiative, and its strategies for growing sustainable communities in the Valley of the Sun include:

  • Promoting mixed land uses
  • A range of housing types
  • Thriving economies
  • Environmentally responsive design
  • Having a variety of transportation choices
  • Compact development
  • Making places safe
  • Promoting healthy living
  • Community engagement

 

I could write four pages about each of those points, but essentially they mean: building sustainably occurs block-by-block, street-by-street, house-by-house. It is an organic process and there is no cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all approach. In fact, the standard of cookie cutter replication is what has created much of the challenges in every community built after 1950 in Arizona.

To be successful, it is imperative that we change our standard “square mile” approach to development, where commercial businesses exist only on the edges and residential homes on the interior and there is virtually no interplay between them. No parks, and no tree-lined streets. A better strategy is to develop on the quarter-mile, where neighborhoods have work and play uses and schools and shopping centers interact with residential neighborhoods through a network of paths and pedestrian/bike connections — just like the village concepts of the historic neighborhoods built prior to the 1950s. Ask any Midwesterner what they miss about home and I’ll bet they say their “neighborhoods.” There’s a reason why.

What the sustainable movement is advocating is greater creativity on the developer side and less regulation and restrictions on the government side. Scott Carlin, an associate professor of geography at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, makes an excellent case for a deeper theory of sustainability. He suggests we re-invigorate ties to cities and villages, by building new homes only where there are existing water and sewer lines, sidewalks, schools, businesses and the other infrastructure within a reasonably close radius. In other words, so we can get out of our cars and walk.

What about existing neighborhoods? Well, they can be re-imagined as sustainable by relaxing zoning code to allow for commercial uses consistent with vibrant neighborhoods and by resisting the status quo. It will also happen when residents advocate for and pursue the creation of public amenities like parks and pathways and tree-lined streets. Even the Urban Land Institute recognizes the opportunities suburbs represent because it’s where the biggest gains could be made. Still, it cautions that connecting the dots between suburban projects through effective sub-regional planning is essential.

It is possible for us to focus on more than buildings when we think of sustainability.  With a bit of imagination, and the commitment to integrate the principles of sustainability even on the outskirts of town, we can succeed. Surprisingly, in fact, we won’t be creating anything new. Because, it’s when we look to the past and incorporate the best of what it means to live in an American neighborhood we win. Sustainability is certainly a look to the future, but its reality and its secrets are grounded in our American past.

Sustainable Living - AZRE Magazine September/October 2010

Six Ways The Valley's Redefining Sustainable Living

The Sustainable Six: Redefining Sustainable Living in the Valley

It’s been a little more than a year since representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Transportation announced they were teaming up to bolster community and economic development nationwide.

Like a band of caped crusaders, members of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (now the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities) pledged to help create greener, more sustainable communities through six guiding “livability principles” used to coordinate federal transportation, environmental protection and housing investments at their respective agencies.

At the time, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said, “It’s important that the separate agencies working to improve livability in our neighborhoods are all pointed in the same direction. We’re leading the way toward communities that are cleaner, healthier, more affordable and great destinations for businesses and jobs.”

Indeed, that sentiment, and the pot of federal money the Obama Administration has made available — including $1.5B in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants and $100M released in June for regional integrated planning initiatives — is proof the suburban landscape is changing.

While there is still much work to do, several Valley municipalities, along with organizations such as the Arizona State University Stardust Center for Affordable Homes and the Family, the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) and the newly formed Livable Communities Coalition, are taking steps toward improving the livability of communities statewide, as defined by these guidelines. Here’s a look at the six principles and how Metro Phoenix stacks up:

1. Provide more transportation choices

While the Valley still has miles to go before we wean ourselves from our auto addiction, light-rail construction is a step in the right direction. Next, stop chasing federal highway dollars and, instead, use light rail as the bait to snare funding to create additional transportation options.

2. Promote equitable, affordable housing

This principle aims to broaden the spectrum and expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.

3. Enhance economic competitiveness

In a January Arizona Republic editorial, ASU President Michael Crow outlined an economic-competitiveness strategy designed to “address long-term priorities, not just the current cycle.” Among other tactics, he called for an aggressive, coordinated strategy to tap out-of-state investment funding from a variety of sources for research, infrastructure and health and welfare. “Not competing to get the tax dollars we send to Washington each year simply makes no sense,” he wrote.

4. Support existing communities

Conventional financing and zoning code issues have become the bane of transit-oriented, mixed-use development and redevelopment efforts Valleywide. However, many municipalities are working to honor historic neighborhoods and update building and zoning codes to encourage adaptive reuse and infill projects. That action will contribute to community revitalization.

5. Coordinate policies and leverage investment

Regional planning and interconnectivity are more important than ever. Valley cities must think regionally, especially if they hope to snare federal dollars.

6. Value communities and neighborhoods

Valley cities such as Phoenix, Scottsdale and Chandler were beginning to create more livable, walkable communities before the housing market crashed. Now more than ever, development at the people scale, rather than large, single-use tracts, is needed to promote a sense of community.

Livability ranks high on the wish lists of companies looking to relocate. As the federal tide shifts in favor of sustainable living, we need to change with it. Even a place known for its Wild West sensibilities and love of private property rights can learn to adapt.

For more information about the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities and sustainable living, visit portal.hud.gov.

AZRE Magazine September/October 2010