Trying to lure new real estate investment and keep pace with the times, Mesa is taking its first step toward wholesale changes in a zoning code that has remained unchanged for 18 years.
The changes will affect everyone from a homeowner looking to build an addition to developers interested in large building projects that could change the face of Mesa’s downtown, according to city officials.
The development changes are overdue, city officials agree.
Mesa has matured from a sprawling city that has developed as a series of neighborhoods to one that is seeking to attract high-rise projects that incorporate shopping, offices, condos and town homes, city planners said.
“It tends to reflect a city that is beginning to mature. Mesa has been experiencing a very high growth spurt for 30 to 40 years,” said Gordon Sheffield, Mesa’s zoning administrator.
“With all those years of growth, we’re beginning to look at buildout,” he continued. “There’s not a lot of large vacant parcels left that are ready to build.”
For Mesa’s landscape to change, so must the city’s zoning rules. The code was last updated in 1988, and centers on traditional areas of development — residential, commercial and industrial.
The city is considering loosening the building restrictions on homes in the older parts of the city to allow for additions, promoting investment in older residences.
Building guidelines could also be changed for several areas around the city that display a unique character — such as Williams Gateway, Falcon Field, the Desert Uplands and Dobson Ranch area.
Right now, setbacks and other design guidelines follow a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t allow new development in these areas to blend into those around them, Sheffield said.
Desert Uplands in east Mesa, for instance, emphasizes the preservation of desert scenery by clustering homes inside a development so they don’t damage natural washes and sensitive desert plants.
City leaders also are looking to create new zoning designations that make way for current development trends, like mixed-use concepts that accommodate shopping, residences and pedestrian-friendly areas in the same location.
West Mesa, the future east end of the light-rail line, needs a designation to streamline transit-oriented development, said Dave Richins, director of the West Mesa Community Development Corporation.
The city doesn’t have a designation for development that would include condos, a high-rise and commercial offices.
“We sat around trying to figure out how many letters we would have to write to get it done,” Richins said.
Darrell Bellomy, facilities managers for the Sunshine Acres children’s home in east Mesa, said he understands the struggle of a development that falls outside the city’s plan.
The children’s home has a warehouse to receive donations, dorms to house children and a boutique to support some of the home’s activities.
Sunshine Acres was annexed into the city under a residential zone, which makes obtaining permits for expansion difficult, Bellomy said. The home is completing a dorm that was started three years ago. It could have taken half that time, he said. “Obviously it would have already have been done if we could have gotten a permit on it,” he said.
In addition to some of the changes to the zoning code, the city is looking to streamline the process for developers.