Phoenix Considering Vacant Retail to Housing Plan

Credit: AZ Central

Plans are in the incubation stage in Phoenix to convert vacant retail space into apartments to partially address the city’s housing needs.

Retail space per capita in Phoenix averages 40.5SF. The U.S. average is 28SF.

A 2020 analysis determined the city’s housing inventory is more than 163,000 short of its current demand.

City staff told City Council in a meeting last month they would like to create a vacant storefront program that addressed redevelopment difficulties and incentivize reuse.

Potential program elements to promote general redevelopment include:

  • Increased building heights and densities,
  • Allowing specialty businesses to locate in commercial areas without obtaining specialized permits,
  • Expanding the types of uses allowed in a given area, and
  • Reducing parking requirements.

Staff will gather public input before assembling a specific plan, but many on the Council expressed conceptual support.

Another key aspect of the potential plan allows for the redevelopment of vacant big box stores and strip malls with multifamily units without requiring special approval, as is currently the case.

While there is opposition to multifamily conversion in some instances, some Council members feel vacant retail is a greater harm, attracting crime such as vandalism and looting.

Councilmember Jim Warning mentioned he has supported at least two zoning cases to redevelop big box spaces – an L.A Fitness and a Harkins Theatre – into multifamily.

He added, however, he has concerns about making across the board changes and prefers to retain redevelopment review as a case-by-case consideration.

Some real estate experts caution there is not as much contiguous vacant retail as many people seem to think, as the local vacancy rate is only around 6%. They recommend looking at outdated and vacant office space instead, as office vacancies are likely to continue growing in the aftermath of pandemic-related cultural and workplace shifts. (Source)

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