Where development occurs will have a lasting impact on the sustainability of our community. Development should bring assets to the community and respect the integrity of our natural ecosystems. A well-planned site design can achieve these goals and add to the sustainability of the community. Below are City codes and policies that affect development, and resources and programs to facilitate sustainable development practices.


Environmental Codes and Policies

Rezoning Requirements

For re-zonings of land that contain sensitive, unique, or otherwise significant natural habitats or features, an Environmental Resource Report may be required as part of the re-zoning application. The Planning and Development Services – Rezoning Section can assist you with any questions about this process.

Native Plant Preservation Ordinance (NPPO)

A Native Plant Preservation Plan is required in order to develop most property in Tucson. The NPPO plan shows how the native plants on a project site will be preserved, relocated or replaced. Specific trees, shrubs, succulents and cacti are protected by law. These protected species are listed in the City of Tucson Land Use Code. Information regarding the NPPO submittal requirements and review process can be found in section 3.8 of the Land Use Code and section 2-15 of the Development Standards.

Commercial Rainwater Harvesting Ordinance

Requires all new commercial development to prepare a landscape water budget and supply 50% of the landscape water needs with harvested rainwater beginning on June 1, 2010.

Water Harvesting Ordinance

The City of Tucson Land Use Code addresses water harvesting requirements in sections,, and The focus of these ordinance sections is on harvesting rainwater to supplement on-site irrigation of vegetation. 

On October 18, 2005, the Mayor and Council passed an Ordinance (number 10210) adopting the Water Harvesting Guidance Manual for use by developers in planning a strategy to implement water harvesting for new developments, including City projects. The manual is primarily directed toward commercial developments, subdivision common areas, public buildings and public rights-or-way, but the concept designs and configurations are easily adapted for residential lot use. The Water Harvesting Guidance Manual provides information on water harvesting techniques, their appropriate placement, and the context of water harvesting in site design. It also addresses engineering considerations and landscape considerations, among other relevant topics.

Hillside Development Zones (HDZ)

The HDZ is an overlay zone adopted by the City that is added to the existing zoning of a property. The mountainous areas surrounding Tucson exhibit steep slopes, which may contain unstable rock and soils. Since development in these areas can be hazardous to life and property, construction methods that ensure slope stabilization and minimize soil erosion should be used. Specifics about the HDZ process can be located in section 2.8.1 of the Tucson Land Use Code and section 2-12 of the Development Standards.

Riparian Preservation Codes and Policies:

The City of Tucson has a long-standing commitment to preserving watercourses in their natural state. The initial City direction for regulation of watercourses was the adoption of the Interim Watercourse Improvement Policy (IWIP) by the Mayor and Council on June 27, 1988. The IWIP contains specific policies that encourage the preservation of natural watercourses and the design of landscaped, natural-appearing channels. The IWIP also contains policies restricting the use of concrete for bank protection and channelization. 

Riparian Habitat within the City is protected through 3 regulations:

1. Watercourse Amenities, Safety and Habitat (W.A.S.H.) Ordinance

Chapter 29, Article VIII was adopted by Mayor and Council on March 25, 1991 to implement the Interim Watercourse Improvement Policy, to protect existing vegetation near specific washes, to provide for restoration of vegetation along disturbed wash reaches, to reduce heat island effects and to aid groundwater recharge.

2. Environmental Resource Zone (ERZ) The ERZ was adopted as a zoning regulation to preserve open space, particularly the critical and sensitive habitats linked with public monuments, forests and preserves.

3. The Floodplain and Erosion Hazard Management Code (Chapter 26) provides for the management of uses and development in floodplains to protect the public from flooding and to protect riparian habitats. All proposed developments within the 100-year floodplain must be reviewed for compliance with these regulations. Any development in the 100-year floodplain requires a floodplain use permit that must be approved by the City Engineer.

    All watercourses with a 100-year discharge of 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) or more are regulated under the Floodplain and Erosion Hazard Management Code (Chapter 26). WASH and ERZ regulations only apply to certain designated watercourses. Click here to see if a watercourse is designated as WASH or ERZ.

    In November 2006, Mayor and Council adopted the Interim Watercourse Preservation Policy and Development Standard. Development Standard 2-16 (formerly DS 9-06) consolidates information on compliance with Chapter 26, WASH, and ERZ and is the most current guidance on watercourse protection. Properties on which there is a regulated watercourse may be required to complete a Watercourse Resources Report (WRR).

    The Interim Watercourse Maintenance Guidelines were developed as part of the Tucson Stormwater Management Study (TSMS) to "provide field guidance to maintenance workers to achieve consistent drainage maintenance City-wide." The Interim Watercourse Maintenance Guidelines provide general maintenance techniques for natural, altered from natural, and constructed watercourse classifications that reflect the extent of urbanization of the watercourse. These guidelines are currently under revision. The revised guidelines will address maintenance of both publicly and privately owned watercourses.

    Climate Change Response Ordinance (CCRO)

    The City is in the process of developing a consolidated environmental ordinance to replace the various existing habitat protection codes. This process is being supported by input from the Resource Planning Advisory Committee.



    The Downtown Infill Incentive District provides the opportunity to modifiy development regulations and fees through the development agreement process. The developments within the district may qualify for modified development standards, fee modification for qualifying fees that may include fee waivers or deferments, or expediting procedures or plans processing. It may also include assistance on the assembling of parcels, environmental contamination clean-up, infrastructure improvements, and other associated development issues within the context of the provisions of State Statutes.

    For more incentives, take a look at the City of Tucson's Business page.


    Programs and Plans

    Habitat Conservation Plans

    Preliminary Draft Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) have been prepared in support of the City of Tucson’s (City of Tucson) application for an Incidental Take Permit (Permit) in conformance with Section 10 of the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). The HCPs address proposed development activities in two City of Tucson planning sub-areas: Southlands and Avra Valley.

    Houghton Area Master Plan (HAMP)

    The HAMP is an Area Plan that establishes the policy and procedural frameworks necessary to guide growth and development within the area, in accordance with the City of Tucson General Plan. The Houghton Area Master Plan (HAMP), which is largely undeveloped land south of Irvington Road, offers an opportunity to plan and develop a place where people can enjoy a comfortable environment in which to work, raise children, retire, enjoy being with friends, be close to nature, and pursue a healthy lifestyle.

    Desert Village Model

    The City plans to use the Desert Village land use pattern for the development of the large tracts of State Trust land within the “Evolving Edge” Growth Area. Desert Villages include strategically located Desert Village centers and community. The Desert Village model promotes: land use patterns that include mixed-use centers to provide goods and services in proximity to residential areas; a variety of housing types that span a range of types and prices; mobility options including walking, bicycling, and riding transit; and sensitivity to the natural features of the desert environment.

    Master Planned Communities

    These planned communities generally contain a full range of residential and nonresidential land uses, open space, and public services and facilities. Recent master planned communities associated with neo-traditional design or new urbanism stress open space preservation, integration of land uses to reduce auto trips, a walkable pedestrian network that leads to an “urban village center,” and other design and architectural details that foster social interaction. Civano is an example of a master planned community in Tucson.

    Urban Green Space

    • Parks and Recreation 10-year Strategic Plan

    • General Plan: Parks, Recreation, Open Space, and Trails


    Resources and Technology

    City of Tucson Water Harvesting Guidance Manual

    Drought Tolerant Landscaping:

    • Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) Drought Tolerant/Low Water Use Plant List

    • References for Identifying and Selecting Landscape Plants for the Low Desert (UofA)


      Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society Cactus Rescue

      The Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society Cactus Rescue Crew saves cacti and other native plants that would otherwise be destroyed during the development of Arizona real estate. They do not remove plants from private residences.

      Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) Guidelines for Culvert Construction to Accommodate Fish and Wildlife Movement and Passage (Wildlife Crossings)

      Arizona Game and Fish Desert Tortoise Management



      Pima County Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP)

      Arizona State Land Department