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Charter school zoning in Arizona: A tool for economic development

Not all states are as friendly to charter schools as Arizona. But as charter schools continue to set up shop in Arizona, they get to avoid challenges related to zoning, an ability that can be quite useful in infill locations.

The symbiotic interplay of rooftops and charter schools — aided by charter schools’ zoning treatment — can continue to allow Arizona to grow a greater education system and become an ever-increasing attraction for economic development.

In a November article for AZRE, Erin Thornburn identified a few likely real estate trends that one could expect to see in the Phoenix metro area in 2017. Among the suggested trends is evidence of more infill multifamily developments across the Valley.

Meanwhile, charter schools are continuing to be created, receive charters, expand and set up shop in locations throughout Arizona. Charter schools undoubtedly look at the demographics of their target locations to predict student enrollment. To that end, multifamily developments often provide a strong source of potential students.

The article also identified some of the challenges with developing infill projects, such as higher prices and obtaining zoning appropriate for a modern use of the land. It is here where the State of Arizona offers support for charter schools. Though the State cannot do much about land pricing, the State has put its weight behind public education and expressly offered a hand to charter schools regarding zoning requirements.

In 1996, Arizona adopted A.R.S. § 15-189.01, which effectively classified charter schools as public schools for purposes of zoning. The State amended that statute in 2009 “to clarify that charter schools should be treated as district schools with respect to zoning regulations.”

The statutes specifically allow charter schools to be located and operated at locations or facilities in zoning classifications that would have otherwise prevented a charter school. This allows charter schools to largely bypass the hassles related to acquiring zoning-friendly properties.

This does not mean that charter schools in Arizona can build wherever and whatever they want.  The statutes prevent charter schools from certain locations, such as certain age-restricted communities and properties less than an acre in size that are located within an existing single-family residence zoning district. The statutes also subject charter schools to the building codes and life-safety codes of the applicable jurisdiction, whether state, county or municipality.


Roger S. Owers is an attorney and commercial real estate agent. He holds a Ph.D. in civil engineering, is a registered professional civil engineer, and is a licensed attorney. His focus is on complex and hairy commercial real estate and land deals, including deals in Indian Country.

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