Explaining The Urban Core Master Plan

The Urban Core Master Plan is a step in the right direction for the city of Tempe.

The Urban Core Master Plan is Tempe’s strategy to accommodate the massive increase in population and jobs anticipated in its urban core.

We emphatically support this plan and its forward-looking reforms, which will make our Urban Core more vibrant, affordable, and sustainable for all.

Our support has mobilized us to create this group, to let the city government know that it has friends in this fight, who will shed a light on the vast support in our city for this plan and the ideas it contains. 

What is the Urban Core?

The Urban Core, a stretch of land 5 miles wide and half a mile long, is projected to attract ~45,000 new residents by the year 2040.

That is a 106% increase in population and an 80% increase in jobs in the urban core, and a 30% increase in Tempe’s population overall. How is the city going to deal with this challenge? Two ways:

  1. Expand and improve the public transit of the city.
  2. Build tall, multi-use buildings around that transit. 

The State of Transit in Tempe

A rendering of the Tempe Streetcar, via Valley Metro.

Transit in Tempe has its upsides. Between the light rail, the bus system, and the orbit line, residents have a handful of options for making their way around the city, to the airport, or into the heart of Phoenix.

However, there is room for improvement when it comes to getting around downtown Tempe quickly and affordably. This is where the Tempe Streetcar and the amendments to the General Plan come in. 

The Tempe Streetcar is a 14-stop public rail that hits Apache, Mill Ave, Ash, and Rio Salado Parkway. The short line will be fast and easy to use, and we expect massive ridership as soon as it’s completed. 

The stops are concentrated in downtown Tempe and around the south side of Arizona State University, benefitting students, businesses on Mill, and drivers fed up with Friday night traffic. 

In addition to the Streetcar, this October will see a vote by the city council to adopt two very powerful amendments to the city’s general planning document.

The General Plan for 2040 was made by Tempe to guide the development of the city for the next 20-30 years. Plans like this required of every city in Arizona, and must be voted on and accepted by city residents. 

Tempe’s plan for 2040 includes many laudable goals, like making Tempe a destination for multi-modal transportation, reducing the number of traffic fatalities, and our favorite, making Tempe a “20-minute City”, or a city where all or most of the important amenities are available by a 20 minute walk, bike ride, or transit trip. 


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Building Up

What’s important to know about the general amendments is that it will massively up-zone small parts of downtown Tempe and the coast of the Rio Salado, moderately up-zone other sections of the urban core, and leave completely unchanged most of Tempe. 

The areas that will be up-zoned see huge improvements to current zoning laws. First, the areas in downtown Tempe and around Rio Salado will be mixed-use, to accommodate the need for new dwelling units and office space.

Areas in these parts of town can go up to 160, 200, or in some places 250 feet tall. Developers which supply additional benefits for the city (such as funding for affordable housing projects and open public spaces) will be able to build even taller.

The details of these height exemptions are not yet finalized, but we at Tempe YIMBY are hoping both the public benefits and additional height for residential buildings are generous. 

These new developments will be mixed-use as well. Office space, retail, dwelling units, and more will be seen in many of these new buildings.

Mixed-use development is incredibly important for making cities sustainable and walkable.  

The proposed maximum heights under the Urban Core Plan.

Buildings between A-Mountain and the ground level of Mill Ave will be kept to 55 feet to preserve a view of the Butte. 

In the district the UCMP calls the “Smith Industrial Innovation Hub” there will also be housing units built on the stories above light industrial centers. This district is also receiving an upgrade for its height maxes, but not by as much.

Some sections will allow developers to get as tall as 130 feet, without exemptions. Additional height increases can be seen in the Apache East and West districts.

Our Take

These changes are not only excellent, but absolutely necessary for the city to absorb the anticipated growth without displacing current residents or driving up costs.

While we would go further in easing zoning restrictions, we believe this is a step in the right direction. Make it easier to build taller, denser housing will begin to bring down the cost of housing as supply begins to meet demand.

City Council will vote in October on whether to accept this plan, and the UCMP needs 4 out of 6 councilmen to vote in favor.

If you can, please contact the city councilors to voice your support, and join us in attending community meetings on the issue.


You can follow Tempe YIMBY on Twitter and Facebook. You can email us at TempeYIMBY@gmail.com and you can subscribe to our newsletter here.

One response to “Explaining The Urban Core Master Plan”

  1. […] like the Urban Core Master Plan, this amendment needs a super majority on the city council, 5 out of 7 votes. So far, the mayor is […]

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