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Explaining Phoenix’s General Plan and Zoning Ordinance

On Behalf of | Mar 26, 2024 | Municipal & Public Agency Law |

Most Phoenix businesses that are interested in constructing a building to house their operations realize that the City has adopted a zoning ordinance that controls the uses on specific parcels of land. The City’s Planning and Zoning Division provides many different services that are aimed at helping landowners develop their land according to their wishes without violating the Zoning Ordinance.

What many prospective developers do not realize is that land use is also controlled by the Phoenix General Plan. The differences between the Zoning Ordinance and the General Plan are not always apparent, but an understanding of these differences can avoid unwanted barriers to an owner’s plans for his land many years into the future.

The basic difference

The basic difference between the Zoning Ordinance and the General Plan is time: the zoning ordinance takes effect immediately and controls all potential uses unless and until the Plan is amended.

Arizona statutes require that every city submit its general plan to the voters for approval every ten years. The current General Plan for Phoenix was last approved in 2015, and it will next be the subject of an election in 2025. The General Plan is intended to regulate land use over a longer period of time than the Zoning Ordinance. As stated by the Planning and Zoning Services Division,

. . . [T]he General Plan will be a living, creative document which can adapt to changing conditions, community goals and urban development opportunities, while assuring stability for our neighborhoods and protecting investments.

The General Plan is rarely invoked to either support or oppose a specific development proposal. Instead, it is used by the staff of the Planning and Zoning Services Division to test ideas for long-term land use planning in the City.

How the Zoning Ordinance affects development

The Zoning Ordinance is intended to control development of land in the near term. The Zoning Ordinance consists of two parts: the text and the map. The Zoning Map shows how land in the City is classified to allow or prohibit intended uses, and the Zoning Ordinance explains in detail the types of uses that are allowed or prohibited in a particular zone.

Every proposed use for a plot of land must be submitted in writing to the Planning and Zoning Services Division. The Zoning Administrator or a Hearing Officer will schedule a hearing on the application. If either one denies the application for a zoning permit, the applicant may appeal the decision to the board of zoning appeals.