Complete the Necessary Due Diligence, Including a Full Zoning History, for the Subject Property.
All property is not created equal and therefore, each parcel will encounter unique limitations and advantages within the rezoning process. Complete due diligence research is required prior to beginning the rezoning process, including a full zoning history of the parcel. Many land owners and developers fail to find stipulations and other encumbrances attached to their property at the beginning of the process that may impede their ability to develop the property in the future. A qualified land use and zoning attorney is necessary to ensure that the subject property can be rezoned and developed in the manner envisioned by the land owner or developer. This step of the process also allows the land owner to determine if a rezoning is even necessary and if so, which zoning district provides the greatest advantages and whether the City Ordinance will permit the development with or without the need for variances, which are approved through a separate, quasi-judicial City process.
Complete a Full Political Evaluation of the Surrounding Neighborhood and the Necessary Political Bodies.
Although the rezoning process seems to be an organized, step-by-step process, those who jump into the zoning world without first testing the political waters often find themselves neck deep in opposition and without the support of their local City Council member. Once the due diligence research has revealed that the subject property may be rezoned to the desired district, one must evaluate whether the necessary neighborhood and political support will exist throughout the process. Multiple meetings with neighborhood leaders and associations are necessary prior to even filing any formal documentation with the City. Moreover, a land owner or developer should rely upon their attorney to make the necessary introductions with the applicable elected officials and seek her/his support of the project.
The Pre-Application and Initial Meetings with City Planning Staff.
Once it is understood that the neighborhood is, at a minimum, willing to discuss the proposed development and that your district's City Council member is supportive of the project, it is now time to file a pre-application with the City's Planning Staff. The pre-application will require the expertise of not only your attorney, but also an engineer and architect, depending upon the complexity and type of project being proposed. In general, City Staff will assist the applicant in perfecting the rezoning request for the formal application. It is important to keep in mind that while City Staff members are not the final decision makers, whether or not the Staff Report recommends approval or denial of your rezoning request will greatly affect the decisions of the Village Planning Committee, the Planning Commission, and the City Council, the members of which ultimately vote on your rezoning application.
The Formal Rezoning Application.
The formal rezoning application is a complex submission including a detailed narrative describing the proposed zoning district and the district's and development's compliance with surrounding property uses and the General Plan, a detailed and engineered site plan, landscape plan, and other documentation depending upon the size, type, and intensity of the proposed development. It is also important to note that Phoenix and other jurisdictions are beginning to require information on the development's sustainable features including, but not limited to, materials, solar power, weatherproofing, energy-efficient lighting and machinery, reflective roofing, and onsite water reuse and conservation.
The First Neighborhood Meeting.
It is important to note that the rezoning process includes various notice requirements for surrounding property owners and neighborhood/community associations. While properly rezoning your property should have dictated that the applicant be in touch with the surrounding neighbors from the beginning of the process, the City usually only requires the applicant to hold one official neighborhood meeting. But some zoning districts, such as the Planned Unit Development, will require multiple meetings with surrounding neighbors. Your official neighborhood meeting is your opportunity to present your rezoning case and proposed development to the surrounding property owners and seek their input and/or concerns. This is when having an experienced zoning attorney can truly pay off as he/she often has vital relationships with key neighborhood leaders. Do not ignore neighbors with concerns. Such concerns can easily evolve into full opposition at your formal hearings.
Post-Application Meeting and Continued Negotiations with City Staff, Neighborhood Groups, and Other Interested Parties.
Throughout the entire process, but especially after the formal submission, continued negotiations and meetings will be required with City Staff, neighborhood groups, and other parties interested in the outcome of your rezoning case. City Staff will hold a Post-Application meeting with the applicant to discuss any issues or changes needed prior to the scheduling of your formal hearings. City Staff may even request a revised submission of your application and it is not uncommon to submit as many as three separate versions of your application. Once City Staff is satisfied with your application or, in the alternative, once you and staff cannot agree to a compromise on one or more points within your application, you will receive official hearing dates before the applicable Village Planning Committee as well as the Planning Commission and City Council. It is also essential that any stipulations imposed by Staff upon your rezoning case be evaluated for compliance with the law.
Formal Presentation to a Village Planning Committee.
Depending upon the jurisdiction, the first step of the public hearing process may be different. The City of Phoenix, for example, requires that the applicant make a formal presentation to the applicable Village Planning Committee. The City is separated into fifteen different Villages, the members of which are appointed by each district's City Council member. The Village members are from diverse backgrounds and while they may not all have expertise in development, architecture, or engineering, the membership shares a passion for the character of the Village and its neighborhoods and each member is well-versed in the rezoning process and requirements. The Village's formal vote on a rezoning case is not binding, but it is an influential recommendation to the Planning Commission and City Council. Depending upon the complexity of the case and whether it is controversial or experiencing opposition, it may be necessary to lobby the members of the Village in advance of the hearing.
Formal Presentation to the City Planning Commission
After receiving a recommendation from the Village, the applicant must make a formal presentation before the City Planning Commission. Again, the nature of the case and the surrounding controversy or opposition may require the applicant to lobby the members of the Commission prior to the hearing. Similar to the Village, the Planning Commission's decision is a recommendation that will greatly influence the City Council's final vote.
Formal Hearing Before the City Council
The applicant's final step in the rezoning process is the formal hearing before City Council. A well-managed case should ensure that the applicable City Council member was kept well-informed of the progress of the case, any opposition and compromises involved with the case, and that the City Council member remained in favor of the applicant's request throughout the process. Once the City Council member for the subject property's district does not support your case, it is dead in the water. Again, while lobbying all members of the City Council may be necessary, your district's Council member has the greatest ability to determine the outcome of your case. In most situations, once your zoning case is approved at City Council, the property owner's and/or developer's rights will vest under the new zoning district. Careful attention must be given to any stipulations, as failure to abide by such stipulations may cause your new zoning district to revert to its previous designation.
Development Services Department Review and Additional Steps
The above described process is only a single piece of the overall development process. For example, the Development Services Department may require a fact-finding review during your rezoning process and full site-plan approval will be required after your zoning is approved and prior to the issuance of building permits. Following the approval of your zoning, an applicant may still be required to file for variances from the City Ordinance for requirements such as building or landscape setbacks and parking. The purpose of this overview is to provide you with a general understanding of the process, but is not intended to be legal advice of any nature, nor is this information intended to be relied upon. It is important that you contact an attorney before proceeding with any aspect of the rezoning process in Phoenix or any other jurisdiction.