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ARIZONA LEGISLATURE

Scottsdale joins cities, groups trying to derail backyard casitas push

Posted 5/20/24

PHOENIX - Cities and neighborhood groups are making a last-ditch effort to derail a bill passed by the Arizona  Legislature that pre-empts city authority to regulate construction of backyard …

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ARIZONA LEGISLATURE

Scottsdale joins cities, groups trying to derail backyard casitas push

Posted

PHOENIX - Cities and neighborhood groups are making a last-ditch effort to derail a bill passed by the Arizona  Legislature that pre-empts city authority to regulate construction of backyard casitas by urging Gov. Katie Hobbs to veto the bipartisan measure.

City officials from Scottsdale to Casa Grande have sent the Democratic governor letters pleading with her to reject the measure that will allow at least two "accessory dwelling units'' on each single-family lot, with three allowed on larger properties.

They say the bill viewed as one solution to the state's affordable housing crisis will instead cause major disruptions, mainly because it does not allow them to block the use of the units as short-tern rentals. Building casitas and renting them as Airbnb's won’t provide long-term housing, they argue.

Scottsdale’s letter to Hobbs, signed by the mayor, vice-mayor and every council member, lists short-term rentals as a major problem in the prime tourist destination. They pointed to a 2016 law that bans cities from regulating Airbnb’s and other short-tern rentals and said there are now 4,000 of those rentals in their city.

"What were once serene neighborhoods have become party house enclaves,'' Scottsdale's letter says.

"Long-term residents of our beautiful city are now plagued by noise, trash and unseemly behavior on a regular basis,'' it continues. "This bill will add to this catastrophic scene.''

Scottsdale also points to parking and fire sprinklers, which they require on other developments.

The bill sent to Hobbs last week applies to 15 Arizona cities, those with populations of 75,000 or more.

All but two already have adopted rules allowing backyard housing additions and the other two are working on their rules, according to the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, which lobbied heavily against the final bill. They include Tucson and Phoenix.

League president Douglas Nicholls, mayor of Yuma, wrote a letter to Hobbs urging a veto and listing a trove of complaints about the final product with an emphasis on its failure to ban Airbnb’s. Without it, Nicholls wrote, it fails to ensure new affordable housing while preempting some city rules allowing new casitas if they are used for permanent housing, 

Two major groups representing homeowners in metro Phoenix are also urging a veto of House Bill 2720, noting the short-term rental issue but also pointing to lack of parking requirements, provisions banning cities from requiring the additions match the main home, bans on fire sprinklers and more.

But advocates for affordable housing are making their own pitches to Hobbs, including the AARP and the Arizona Housing Coalition. The coalition's letter says the bill is a needed step to diversify housing options and increase availability.

"Signing this bill into law would open the door to an additional tool for developing safe, decent affordable housing options, adding to our state’s housing supply and providing opportunities for generational wealth,'' coalition Executive Director Nicole Newhouse wrote in her letter to Hobbs, obtained by Capitol Media Services.

Builders and housing advocates who backed the measure say statewide rules are needed to spur additional homebuilding, and current city rules fall short. And they said the measure requires at least one unit on a lot to be used as a homeowner's residence to allow a casita to be listed as an Airbnb.

Hobbs has until the middle of this week to sign or veto the casita bill and a second housing bill sent to her last week. They are among a series of measures passed this year as part of efforts by the Legislature to address a major housing shortage in the state.

The shortage has been caused by a variety of factors.

But the main problem started with the Great Recession and the mortgage crisis that followed. Builders all but stopped adding new homes for several years and only reached pre-recession levels in the past couple of years. Meanwhile, the state’s population continued to grow, housing was converted to Airbnb’s and foreclosures snapped up by investors and converted into rentals. Prices for new and existing homes and rents soared.

Five major housing bills have now reached Hobbs' desk this legislative session. She vetoed the most sweeping measure, a bill backed by Republican leaders of the Legislature called the "Arizona Starter Home Act'' that preempted many city zoning laws and allowed very small lots and homes.

She did sign two others, measures allowing apartment developers to convert old commercial or industrial properties, and shortening the time cities have to approving rezoning requests.

The other bill the Legislature sent Hobbs last week will requires cities to allow duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and townhomes on any single-family lot within a mile of a city's central business district and on at least 20% of new single-family home housing developments of 10 acres or more.

That bill won approval from city lobbyists after it was scaled back from covering entire swaths of all cities of 75,000 or more residents.

None of the bills will affect areas covered by homeowners associations.

Builders have been pushing the changes, arguing that cities are standing in the way of new development, taking too long to approve zoning changes and that water shortages have crimped some building. But cities note that there are large numbers of approved homesites that developers are sitting on.

When Hobbs vetoed the major GOP bill, she laid out a series of steps she said lawmakers needed to follow to get her backing of additional housing bills. She said she was supportive of many, including the casita proposal, providing the final product was the result of compromise.

The casita bill sponsor, Rep. Michael Carbone, R-Phoenix, said last week that the casita bill was indeed a compromise, although it still did not get city backing because he could not persuade backers to allow a ban on short-term rentals.

That's not what the letter from the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix and the Phoenix Historic Neighborhoods Coalition says.

The leaders of the two groups say the lack of a ban on short-term rentals, allowing for at least two new additions on each lot and failure to allow cities to make additions match the main home show it doesn’t meet the "compromise'' criteria Hobbs said she needed to sign housing bills.

"The Legislature’s work on this issue was lacking.,'' the two group's leaders wrote to Hobbs. "We don’t say that to bash elected officials, but it’s a reality that queries asking what the bill’s supporters felt was wrong with current local laws went unanswered.''