Saying some cities are extorting developers and business owners, a state lawmaker convinced members of a House panel Tuesday to set deadline for officials to approve or deny permits.
SB 1286, approved on a 5-4 vote by the House Government Committee, spells out that cities have 60 days from the time someone applies to provide a final decision.
Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, the sponsor of the measure, agreed to alter the measure, which already has been approved by the Senate, to provide up to an additional 120 days. But that option would be in the hands of the individual or company seeking the permit, not the city.
The move came over the objection of Rene Guillen, lobbyist for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. Guillen said reviewing plans for more complex projects like stadiums, hotels and apartment complexes often can take longer.
But Rep. Tom Forese, R-Gilbert, said there's a simple answer for that.
"The city has the right to say no to the requested permit,'' he said. "But what we are looking to avoid is this purgatorial period of punishment that businesses go through in order to get their permits and are at the mercy of the city or town that is looking for some quid pro quo.''
Klein said that issue of city demands is at the heart of her legislation.
"All this is trying to do is give a little parity between a city official who is sometimes trying to hold up a contract or, I don't want to say 'shake down,' or will basically want money for something to be expedited,'' she said. Klein said developers in particular are at the mercy of cities who may hinge approval of some permit or application on having some of the property deeded to the city.
Klein said these permits for what she believes should be routine matters like a fast-food restaurant can take up to a year.
"They get rammed through all these existing hoops and extorted on different levels in order to start a business,'' she said. "And right now, the last people we want to be extorting are the people with the money to create jobs.''
Guillen said Klein's arguments and the legislation are based on a flawed presumption.
"We don't believe we're extortionists,'' he said.
"I don't think anyone's anti-business,'' Guillen continued. And he said there is no logical reason for any city to slow down the permitting process.
The problem with this bill, he said, is the lack of flexibility. And he said the time lines become even more difficult to meet as the economy has left cities with less money to hire staff to process the permits.
The measure now goes to the full House.