Pima puts guesthouse debate to bed

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: Guesthouses are now permitted in the town of Pima, and yes, homeowners can rent them out too.

By Jon Johnson


PIMA – A tumultuous four years of back-and-forth discussion and deliberation regarding the town of Pima allowing guesthouses and whether they could be placed up for rent by the homeowner was put to bed without a whimper at the town’s November council meeting.

The Pima Town Council unanimously approved a new ordinance not only allowing for the construction of guesthouses but one that also allows them to be rented as well.

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: Pima Town Manager Sean Lewis helped end the debate over guesthouses in Pima.

Pima Town Manager read the ordinance to the council, which includes rules such as the proposed guesthouse must receive a building permit, be constructed by latest international building code standards, a minimum square footage of 500 feet with a maximum of half the square footage of the main dwelling, a minimum setback of 20 feet from the front, 10 feet to the rear and side each, and parking must be available on the property.

The homeowner also must live on the property, and if not, the main dwelling and accessory dwelling (guesthouse) must be rezoned as multifamily.

The town had been going over the issue for several years, starting at a June 4, 2013, council 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

At Pima’s Nov. 7 meeting this month, Councilor Deborah Barr asked if all the concerns have been met. Lewis responded that those who were previously against it are now for it.

The council then voted unanimously to approve the ordinance.