In the first work session since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Yuma City Council on Tuesday focused on the proposed 2022 General Plan

Among the comments voiced by at least one council member was a desire to see less regulations and requirements for developers to open the way for more affordable housing.

The 311-page general plan is a guiding document for future development that is updated every 10 years. Voters must approve the final update.

The city had four update options. It could have readopted the current plan as amended during the last 10 years with no changes to the land use element. It could have done a technical update with changes to reflect the council’s new vision and strategy.

The city could have done a more-involved technical update with changes to the land use map. Or it could have done a complete overhaul and started from scratch with the help of an outside consultant.

Staff opted to go with the more-involved technical update, which requires a major amendment process and includes changes to the text to reflect the council’s vision and strategy and changes to land use map.

The city offered several public participation opportunities as part of the process, such as Planning Commission presentations, a joint council and commission presentation, listening sessions, mailed newsletter, media appearances and online survey.

In his presentation, Tim Bourcier, director of planning and neighborhood services, addressed some of the issues brought up during the last discussion, such as population numbers. Bourcier noted that the numbers included in the plan are a snapshot in time. The numbers include an Arizona estimate of 108,010 in December 2020, an Arizona revised estimate of 97,883 for Winter 2021 and a U.S. Census count of 95,548 for April 2020.

A citizen had previously expressed concern that low population numbers and estimated growth might send the message that the city discourages growth. Bourcier explained that these statistical estimates are in line with sources and reflect future annual growth between 1.5% to 2.0%.

Bourcier also noted that these estimates can always be changed, as well as any element in the document, as the city makes minor and major changes during the next 10 years.

“Once this goes to the voters, it’s not done,” Bourcier said.

After the last presentation, council members sent staff comments on the proposed plan, and these comments led to some small revisions, Bourcier said.

Councilman Chris Morris voiced the most concerns on Tuesday, the majority having to do with subdivision regulations, such as requirements for sidewalks, trees, stormwater retention basins, trails, and bike paths. His fear is that all the requirements will lead to less buildable lots and costlier homes when the city has been encouraging affordable homes.

Morris cautioned against getting in the way of letting developers provide the products in demand by the market. He pushed for less regulations to relieve costs and promote affordable housing, such as duplexes.

Bourcier explained that some of his suggested changes were already being made and the city has been moving in that direction. He added that these standards aren’t new and developers have been using them for several years.

Bourcier also noted that the city code allows flexibility, such as the infill overlay, which permits reduced lot sizes and other negotiable standards.

Morris also asked that the use of “shall” be changed to “will consider” or something similar to indicate more of an aspiration and goals rather than obligations.

The councilman had other concerns he voiced and others he wished to address, however, Mayor Doug Nicholls suggested that he send them to staff in writing.

Councilwoman Ema Lea Shoop relayed questions from citizens regarding the economic benefits of the plan and bicycle paths. On the economic benefits, Bourcier replied that the general plan “lays everything out for developers” so they can see the city’s policies and where there is potential for development and determine if investment would be worthwhile.

As for bike routes, Bourcier noted that the economic benefit might not come in the form of a dollar amount but these types of amenities could help attract businesses.

Councilman Mike Shelton said he wished that the proposed document had been given to the council earlier so they had had more time to review it.

Interim City Administrator Jay Simonton said he had “slowed down” the process to give the council more time to review it and feel comfortable with it before adopting it in April. Staff initially had suggested that the council adopt the updated plan in January so that it could go on the August ballot. The document will now go up for a vote in November.

The new timeline calls for the council to provide final comments by Jan. 28. Staff will make revisions and submit them to administration no later than Feb. 15. The final discussion with the council, if necessary, will take place during a March 1 work session. Staff should have the final revisions no later than March 11, with adoption by the council set for April 6.

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