Phoenix has a long history of promoting sustainable development through the use of zoning codes and land use policies. The effects of these policies and environmental principles are evident in the transit oriented development, infill and downtown development programs, and the Urban Form and Heat Island Studies. The award-winning Brownfields Program is another example of an innovative approach to land redevelopment which has restored land and increased private investments, training and jobs.
In 1999-2000, the city of Phoenix conducted an extensive Community Involvement program to amend the General Plan to expand its focus on environmental and natural resource issues. Extensive plan revisions included the addition of the following five new elements: growth area, open space, environmental planning, cost of development, and water resources. Among other activities, residents in more than 2,000 households, representing a vast cross-section of the population, were contacted directly via telephone to participate in a survey regarding the issues most important to Phoenix. This comprehensive document was approved by the voters in 2002 and serves as a blueprint for sustainability and responsible growth. It includes a wide range of goals and policies to promote infill, pedestrian/bicycle friendly communities, and transit-oriented development. It also addresses heat island effects, development of brownfield properties, promotion of green building techniques, recycling, protection of water resources, and protection of native vegetation and wildlife habitat. The Planning Department maintains the General Plan and provides periodic updates on the implementation status.
Infill Area: Redevelopment
The city's General Plan includes an infill area to promote development in the central city, conserve energy, reduce commute times, and maximize city services. The Neighborhood Services Department (NSD) is responsible for implementing redevelopment plans for designated redevelopment areas within the infill area. The redevelopment programs include pro-active code enforcement and compliance, neighborhood capacity building, infrastructure repair and replacement, graffiti and crime reduction efforts, new home construction and rehabilitation and neighborhood economic development. The 2004 Housing Condition Study documented the success of these programs, noting an increase in the improvement of housing conditions in these areas of over 35 percent in the past ten years. NSD's neighborhood revitalization efforts are linked with other sustainable initiatives including water conservation, energy efficient affordable housing, dust control, weatherization and historic preservation.
Transit Service Planning
Public Transit works with private developers to add transit infrastructure to new development in the city. Staff reviews approximately 700 Planning Department and Development Services Department site plans, annexation, zoning and other requests per year.
Zoning: Edge Treatment Guidelines
The city has instituted an overlay zoning district to protect the interface between new development and the natural Sonoran Preserve. The Sonoran Preserve is an area of 30,000 acres being purchased by the city with dedicated sales tax revenues to conserve large portions of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. The edge treatment guidelines will ensure that development impacts are minimized and public access to the preserve is maintained. The Sonoran Preserve Edge Treatment Guidelines received the 2007 Valley Forward Crescordia Environmental Award for Livable Communities.
Zoning: Commercial Hazardous Waste Facilities
The city has amended the Zoning Code to address hazardous and blighted land uses and promote beneficial future development. Zoning Code changes prohibit new or expanded commercial hazardous waste facilities, thermal treatment, and offsite storage of contaminated soil. Because of the zoning changes, the number of commercial hazardous waste facilities in Phoenix has been reduced from five in the late 1990s to only two by 2006.
Zoning: Transit-Oriented Development Overlay District
This zoning overlay district encourages development close to light rail stations, which will enhance transit ridership and decrease automobile dependency by providing a complimentary mixture and density of activity. The overlay district applies to all new land uses or development and prohibits or limits some uses that discourage transit ridership. It also adds requirements to promote a comfortable pedestrian environment. The overlay district ordinance is being updated to provide more development flexibility to encourage more intense development in conjunction with start-up of the light rail system in December 2008.
Zoning: Other Overlays
The city has established other overlays including the Rio Salado zoning overlay district which prohibits new or expanded junkyards and requires special permits for solid waste facilities. A Special Redevelopment Area (RDA) created for the Matthew Henson HOPE VI Project also includes a zoning overlay which discourages undesirable uses and promotes positive redevelopment. Commercial overlay districts for obsolete commercial strip retail areas along major streets will stimulate rehabilitation and redevelopment.
Heat Island Study
As a desert city experiencing heat island affects, the city has initiated several related efforts to address the impacts as described below:
- Urban Heat Island Task Force - In 2005, the city council established an inter-departmental Urban Heat Island Task Force led by the Planning Department to research the issue and recommend new policies and programs. In addition, several city departments are working in collaboration with Arizona State University's (ASU) Global Institute of Sustainability to study the impacts of the Urban Heat Island and possible mitigation options. For example, the city's Aviation Department is collaborating with ASU to study cooler options for materials used in the pavements, benches, roofing and landscaping. Study results will be used as guidance for regional planning efforts and airport development. In addition, city buildings have incorporated Energy Star roofing materials to reduce heat.
- Shade - The Planning Department is conducting the Downtown Urban Form Project, to develop zoning regulations that will better utilize downtown buildings and land resources. The new zoning regulations will include sustainability standards to address the urban heat island by requiring the use of appropriate materials and incorporation of shade throughout downtown. Planning has also completed a downtown study to look at opportunities for increasing shade via "connected oasis" paths for the thermal comfort of pedestrians in the city center. In addition, the Parks and Recreation Department has installed shade structures at numerous parks, pools, sports complexes and community centers.
The city collaborates with numerous nonprofit agencies and local businesses on neighborhood and citywide sustainability programs. The Brownfields Program has won several national awards and is widely recognized for its innovative approach. By the end of fiscal year 2006-07, Brownfields redevelopment projects had resulted in:
- Restoration of 297 acres of previously contaminated land.
- Creation of more than 3,000 jobs.
- Private investment of more than $293 million.
- Blighted property transformed to commercial, office, retail and residential uses.
Brownfield redevelopment examples include:
- Metro North Corporate Park - a 150-acre former computer chip manufacturing facility that was cleaned up and redeveloped into a mixed-use complex with office, retail, and residential uses.
- Ace Asphalt Inc. - a 10-acre former auto salvage yard and landfill site redeveloped into Ace's corporate headquarters with approximately 200 employees.
- Copper Leaf Project - a 103-acre vacant site with tons of surface and subsurface debris, soil contamination, and illegally dumped hazardous materials. The site was redeveloped through a public private partnership with Trend Homes of Arizona into a 750-home, mixed-income master planned community.
Environmental Technician Training Program
In December 2007, the Phoenix Brownfields program conducted a four-month Environmental Technician Job Training Program for residents in the West Phoenix Revitalization Area. The program was funded with a $200,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant and in-kind contributions. Eighteen individuals completed the program and received three key environmental certifications that enable graduates to seek entry level positions with environmental firms, private water companies or municipalities. Job placement assistance was provided to the graduates including a Job Fair with 20 participating companies.
Since 1990, the city's policy has been to perform Phase I and II environmental reviews for all property and right-of-way acquisitions. This reduces the municipality's liability during necessary property transactions, and allows for remediation of contaminated sites in the course of planned development projects. The policy transitioned into a city regulation (A.R. 3.95) in 2006.