Special Districts

What is a Special District?

Special Districts allow the City to achieve specific planning and development goals for particular areas. These goals can include promoting transit-oriented development, preserving neighborhood character, encouraging infill development, and more. Special Districts that have been established are the Downtown Infill Incentive District, Urban Overlay Districts, and Neighborhood Preservation Zones.

Design Review Process

Development within special districts requires design review. This process varies by district and type of application. Please find more information about each district below. To apply for a design review, follow the steps listed in the document below.

To request a pre-application meeting, refer to these instructions:

All applications should be submitted via Tucson Development Center Online.


Downtown Infill Incentive District

As described in Section 5.12 of the Unified Development Code, the primary purpose of the Downtown Area Infill Incentive District (IID) is to encourage redevelopment in the following ways:

  1. Encourage sustainable infill development that supports the creation of urban neighborhoods that are pedestrian and transit-oriented and benefits the IID, the major activity centers in the area, and the City as a whole, while promoting compatibility with existing residential and non-residential properties and neighborhoods;
  2. Address barriers to infill development in the Downtown Area Infill Incentive District (IID), such as incompatible development standards and associated development barrier issues;
  3. Implement the IID purposes by offering development incentives permitting a modification of development requirements;
  4. Provide for appropriate transitional design standards where the development or expansion of a use is adjacent to existing single-family residential development;
  5. Protect historic structures and historic neighborhoods and existing residential neighborhoods from potential negative impacts of new development; and,
  6. Consolidate the regulations and design standards that apply to downtown areas into a single ordinance by moving certain provisions of the Rio Nuevo District (RND) overlay zone, former Section 5.11, into the IID Rio Nuevo Area (RNA) and renumbering them to conform to the numbering of the IID

Neighborhood Preservation Zones

Neighborhood Preservation Zones (NPZs) are zoning overlays enabled by a 2008 ordinance, and are available to neighborhoods within the 1953 City limits that are designated National Register Historic Districts, or are eligible for that designation. Two have been established: Feldman’s, Jefferson Park, and Rincon Heights/Pie Allen. As described in Section 5.10 of the Unified Development Code, the purposes of the Neighborhood Preservation Zone (NPZ) are:

  •  To provide a process for the establishment of NPZ districts to preserve, protect and enhance the unique character and historical resources of established City neighborhoods; and,
  •  To provide for the creation and establishment of a neighborhood-specific design manual for each NPZ district, containing architectural and design standards and guidelines to ensure that development is compatible with the neighborhood character overall, as well as with the character of the applicable Development Zone.

Design Review Process

Within Neighborhood Preservation Zones (NPZs), new construction on residential (R)-zoned properties is required to be compatible with surrounding historic residential buildings, in accordance with specific design guidelines for each NPZ, to ensure that residential infill development fits with the unique historic characters of these historic neighborhoods. 


Rio Nuevo Area

The purpose of this overlay zone is to implement the policies of the City’s General Plan, with special emphasis on ensuring the cultural, economic, and general welfare of the community. The Rio Nuevo Area (RNA) is a subdistrict of the Downtown Infill Incentive District which promotes harmonious development within the district; creates and enhances the Downtown pedestrian environment; and celebrates Tucson’s rich historic, cultural, and artistic heritage. The design principles, categories, and standards referenced in this section are intended to promote public-private partnerships to support quality development within the Rio Nuevo Area, as well as enliven and revitalize the Downtown. Development within the RNA must comply with the required design standards in this section.

Diversity, design in context, and accessibility are the design principles that form the basis for the specific design standards to be applied to new projects in the Rio Nuevo and Downtown areas.

  1. Diversity is the incorporation of all of the prehistoric, historic, and cultural elements that make up Tucson’s urban form and context. This principle forms the basis for the specific design standards, including building character and materials, that reflect the indigenous influence of the Sonoran Desert region and culture. The intent of this design principle is not to prescribe architectural style, materials, or form but to encourage innovation in contemporary design.
  2. Design in Context is the recognition that Tucson is a unique desert southwestern City. New buildings should also translate into contemporary form the basic principles that contribute to historic structures and other structures in and around the Site Context - Development Zone, as well as addressing the Regional and Community Context.
  3. Accessibility includes three dimensions. The first is physical mobility for pedestrians, including physically disabled pedestrians, bicycles, transit, and private cars, provided by an efficient and pleasant circulation system. The second is visual, retaining physical amenities such as viewsheds, open space, and visual connections to the mountains and the Santa Cruz River. The third is informational and educational, including access to information and ideas.

Upon request from an applicant, the PDSD Director may allow modifications to multiple development regulations for projects within the Rio Nuevo Area.  All proposals are reviewed by the Design Review Board, which makes a recommendation to the PDSD Director. See UDC sections 5.12.7 for more information about the Rio Nuevo Area design standards and process.

Urban Overlay Districts

Urban Overlay Districts allow flexible development standards and establish design guidelines for the area. Some of the goals of a UOD, as described in Section 5.13 of the Unified Development Code, are to encourage:

  • Comprehensively planned, pedestrian and transit-oriented, urban infill, and mixed use areas
  • Site planning and architectural solutions consistent with the ambience of Tucson
  • Urban design features that include sustainable solutions and can accommodate both historical and contemporary design

Three UODs have been established to date: Main Gate, Grant Road and the Sunshine Mile.

Sunshine Mile (Broadway, Euclid to Country Club) - Adopted 2021

Grant Road – Adopted 2018

Main Gate – Adopted 2012