Pima Council set to approve guesthouses and allow them to be rentals

Photo By Rebecca Johnson: The city of Safford eliminated its sunset clause for its half-cent sales tax, but instead of making the tax permanent added an amendment that just extended it to 2030.

By Jon Johnson


PIMA – What a difference a change in leadership makes.

Nearly five years ago, the discussion surrounding accessory dwelling units (guest houses) – how they must be attached to the main residence and the inability to rent the excess space out – was very contentious and divided members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Town Council and town residents.

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: Former Pima Mayor Vaughn Grant addresses the council in 2013 regarding his desire for the town to allow guesthouses.

At the Pima Town Council’s Sept. 5 meeting, however, all appeared to be in agreement to change the town code to not only allow unattached guesthouses but also to let owners rent them freely as well.

The issue first came to a head with the Pima Town Council at its June 4, 2013, meeting, in which the entire council was made up of different members than preside now and a different town manager was in place as well.

At that time, the town had already sent out violation notices to people who had constructed and/or were renting guesthouses, which was against the town code.

Former Pima Mayor and 15-year veteran of the Pima Town Council Vaughn Grant addressed the council at the time in favor of amending the code to allow guesthouses. He said he thought it should have already been in there because they got most of their town code from Scottsdale and that it was an oversight that it wasn’t. Personally, Grant said he wanted it amended because of his desire to build a lakefront home in west Pima with a pool house that would be considered a guest house due to its amenities. The council agreed to look into the matter but Grant’s home has not been built to date.

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: Pima Planning & Zoning Commission members, from left, Carla Lemen, Jace Nelson and David Bixler, address guesthouses during a trilateral meeting in October 2013.

In October 2013, the Pima Town Council agreed to form a committee to examine the issue and have it meet with the council and Pima Planning and Zoning Commission with the pretense being to hammer out a new code. The meeting was held later that same month, but the Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Norma Bryce expressed her objection to amending the code because she felt it would reward residents who had already circumvented the law.

“I think the thing that has bothered us as a board is people who have come in to ask permission and then (get) refused because the code does not allow it. They go ahead and do it and then they think we should change the code now so that they’re OK,” Bryce said at that meeting. “I just think that they’re trying to force the code to accommodate what they want to do — not what’s best for the town . . . We’re really upset that people were thumbing their nose at the city.”(sic)

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Valley Central: Just a lot size of 7,000 square feet is required for a duplex multi family dwelling.

The idea of guesthouses was still being debated two years later without a resolution as the Planning and Zoning Commission tabled a decision on a recommendation to the council at its Sept. 8, 2015, meeting.

Then Planning and Zoning Chairman Jace Nelson questioned the fairness of not allowing guesthouses while allowing multifamily residences on much smaller lots.

“You can build a duplex on a minimal lot size, but you can have two acres and you can’t put in a guesthouse that may or may not be used,” Nelson said at the meeting.

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: Prior to becoming the Pima Town Manager Sean Lewis worked as its code enforcement officer.

Finally, two years after that, at its recent meeting Sept. 8, the Pima Town Council has authorized Town Manager Sean Lewis to draft an amendment to the town code regarding guesthouses to be put for adoption at its next meeting.

The new amendments would allow for unattached guesthouses in Pima as long as they are a minimum of 500 square-feet in size and are not larger than 50 percent of the main home, have the same setbacks of a multifamily dwelling and must be built as a guesthouse and cannot be a converted shed or like building. Lewis said that an owner would also be allowed to rent out the guesthouse if they so choose. He added that the new leadership didn’t have a concern with a guesthouse being rented.

“I don’t see a problem with it, personally,” Lewis said.

As the meeting wore on, it was clear the rest of the council didn’t see what all the previous fuss was about either. 

Mayor C.B. Fletcher called for the council to accept to move forward with Lewis’ proposed changes to the code. Councilor Sherrill Teeter made that into a motion, which was seconded by Councilor Deborah Barr and carried unanimously. Lewis will now draft the ordinance for the council’s perusal and likely approval at the next council meeting.