Nine Easy Steps to Filling in the Empty Spots Where Our City Is Supposed to Be. With nearly half the land within the city still vacant--much of it in single lots or small hunks skipped over by developers--the council needs to get serious about encouraging infill.
1) Require developers to build one home in a special conservation district or infill target area for every ten units approved in outlying subdivisions. Builders always say they can't make money on single homes downtown; this way they can and the community's needs can be met.
2) Take the ideas behind master-planned communities and apply them to the heart of the city through zoning and planning changes. The city should give top priority to developers who offer creative mixes of homes and commerce, expecially the kind of neighborhood shopping that makes an area convenient and livable. That priority could include more density and a fast track through the zoning process.
3) Ask major employers to back home-mortgage loan programs and support new-home construction for their work forces, as is being done in places as diverse as rural Massachusetts and Silicon Valley. Options range from direct subsidies of home loans, to loan backing, to the purchase of land and financial backing for single- and multifamily development by universities, hospital corporations and manufacturers. The next time Motorola needs zoning for a new parking lot, ask to see a proposal to redeem the crumbling neighborhoods around its East McDowell Road semiconductor plant. And, come to think of it, when are we going to see promised multifamily housing in the Good Samaritan Hospital redevelopment area?
4) Expand and redefine programs offering low-interest home loans backed by state-approved bonds. Last year, the state set aside $25 million, only $5 million of which was specifically for home purchases in target areas such as Sunnyslope and the central city. Nearly 300 families bought in those areas, thanks to the program. But the lion's share of that mortgage money is being sucked up by developers of new subdivisions in the suburbs. The focus of this program should be reversed.
5) End the hidden subsidies to developers who insist on building in the boondocks. New subdivisions outside the perimeter of city services should pay the full freight for water, sewer, police and fire protection--up front, and with no help from the taxpayer. It'll hamstring new development on the fringes, you say? We sure hope so.
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6) Hire zoning attorneys with the same kind of zeal as environmental lawyer David Baron of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. He doesn't tell his clients that the law is unenforceable; yet the council is constantly being told by its attorneys that neighborhood-preservation rules are unenforceable. What? After neighborhoods go through all the red tape to protect themselves with special conservation status, they deserve more than gutless legal opinions that say it was all for naught. The council should tell its attorneys to quit blaming the problem on vague laws or write the rules so they do have legal clout. Mayor Terry probably added $1,000 to the value of every home on the street when he tacked up the "Coronado Historic District" sign at the corner of 10th and Sheridan Streets. Enforcing the district's conservation rules would add even more.
7) Plug empty spots in the landscape with some of the hundreds of houses that are being condemned to make way for the Squaw Peak Parkway and other freeways. Some get moved by their owners to new sites; most are demolished by salvagers. The city (or state) has to buy the houses, either way. Why not move them into comparable neighborhoods, landscape them to fit their new sites and price them to attract compatible buyers?
8) Just say "No!" to neighborhood-busting developers. Mixed-use development does not mean buying out half the houses on the block, letting them go to hell, and then coming back with an offer to buy out the rest so you can put up office high-rises. The council should tell the next developer who tries this that it won't consider his rezoning request unless it includes replacement housing for every home he demolishes.
9) The council needs to be as aggressive about using its condemnation powers to preserve or build neighborhoods as it has been to demolish them for commercial redevelopment. This includes condemning decaying strip commercial areas and scattered vacant residential lots where speculators are holding out in hopes of a windfall.