Opening a new business in an older building will be much easier for at least the next 2 1/2 years, as the City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to approve new permit rules.

The new rules allow a business to get the certificate of occupancy needed to open a business much more easily because the business does not have to meet existing building-code requirements if it meets the allowed uses for the commercial site.

Many older buildings in Tucson don't meet current code, and upgrading them would be cost-prohibitive, despite their not being a threat to the public's health and safety.

The new rules will allow businesses to open in those spaces as long as they don't make major changes to the commercial space. Any changes, such as an addition, would require the new business to go through the current standard zoning reviews.

"It will streamline the process to improve neighborhoods by filling empty stores and empty buildings," said developer Tom Warne. He said the new rules will stop deterioration of Tucson's urban core.

More than 100 real-estate brokers and business people came out to support the changes. A handful of neighborhood activists opposed it.

"This is a gutless piece of legislation," said neighborhood activist Ruth Beeker. She said it would harm neighborhoods and that it benefited one special-interest group - developers.

Parking requirements also would be eased under the new rules. Many businessmen and developers contend the requirements are the biggest impediment to developing existing buildings in the city.

Businesses that qualify for the new permitting rules will not have to meet current parking requirements and can seek creative solutions such as shared parking with other businesses, on-street parking and staggered hours of operation - which allows different businesses to use the same parking spaces at different times.

To qualify for the new rules, buildings cannot have been modified after May 2005.

The new rules also now apply to restaurants under 2,400 square feet that are opening in existing spaces. Previously, those businesses had to follow separate permitting guidelines.

The new rules are set to end on Dec. 31, 2012.

Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or