A year ago the City of Tucson’s certificate occupancy ordinance took effect with new requirements for commercial use of existing buildings. It was quickly determined the ordinance was broken and needed to be fixed. And while there was an adjustment in January, nothing more has happened.
“We’ve been working at this for about a year and a half now,” said Rich Rodgers, owner of Rich Rodgers Investments Inc. “We’ve gotten some good changes done to this such as last year when you no longer need an architect’s drawing, but we still have a ways to go before this is really workable. It is unpredictable from time to time.”
Rodgers is quick to point out he’s not putting blame on the city’s Department of Development Services.
“The problem lies with the 1995 land use ordinance, it was a bad law then and it is a bad law now,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers and a group of property owners are working on an ordinance change to the land use code that would recognize the realities of what exists in current buildings, exempting them from meeting the newer requirements for parking, loading, landscapting, setbacks and screening.
Passing such an ordinance would make the process of converting spaces in existing buildings more predictable.
“It could be that a person could walk into the Development Services department and give the address of the property as well as the proposed use,” Rodgers said. “They would look at the zoning code and see if the use is listed. If so, then an immediate life-safety inspection would be issued on the premises and if it passed, a CofO would be issued immediately. We need this process to be predictable, objective and speedy. It should be a two-to-three-day process all told, unless some life and safety hazard discovered in inspection.”
Rodgers said other jurisdictions that require it use a process similar to this.
“Those are what we’re competing with. Many people choose not to open their business within the (Tucson) city limits,” he said. “We were voted the worst place to open a business in Arizona and I am sure the CofO process has something to do with it.”
Rodgers said sometimes when a new business owner inquires of city officials about a certificate of occupancy, they are sent to a microfiche reader, using technology from the 1950s and 1960s, to look up records about their building.
“What message does that send?” Rodgers asked. “And again, Development Services is doing a great job, we’re working with them but their hands are tied by mayor and council. We’re hoping with the change we could change the orientation of the ordinance from a policing attitude to one of economic development opportunity.”
He is hoping to submit the proposed new ordinance soon, but couldn’t say exactly when it would be ready to submit.
Contact reporter Joe Pangburn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (520) 295-4259.