Workers at the Stone Creek subdivision between Summit Street and Longhorn Road are grading the site after clearing the trees from all the building pads and the streets and rights of way -- a change in the landscape that worries some nearby residents.
Other homeowners say they are resigned to the 128-lot project and are hoping for the best.
Ruby Finney said she has complained about the 33-acre subdivision, that faces her home on Longhorn, since the developers first brought the project before Payson's Planning and Zoning Commission in January 1997.
The hillside property was originally zoned by the Gila County Board of Supervisors for one residence per four acres -- the most restrictive zoning in town. That's the normal zoning for raw land in town that has not been zoned otherwise.
Stone Creek developers initially asked the town for permission to build 30 houses on every four acres.
Planning and Zoning commissioners unanimously voted that plan down, saying the project was too dense, the hillsides were too steep and too much vegetation would be lost.
The builders reapplied for less restrictive zoning and added larger, 8,000-to-10,000-square-foot lots to the project. In June 1997, the commissioners gave Stone Creek developers the go-ahead.
But by that time, Payson residents were divided over the project. Those favoring the development organized an opposition group against neighbors of the subdivision who objected to the project.
Nearly all the residents living near the proposed subdivision were initially opposed to the project, Finney said.
"What we did manage to do was get them to raise the lot size from 5,000 square feet to 8,000 square feet," she said.
As for the vegetation, the developers told the group they would try to retain as much as possible, Finney said.
Shawn Patterson, chief executive officer of Stone Creek Development, L.L.C., said he recently went over the area in a two-week period and flagged off all the natural open space areas and all the trees in the front yards that could be saved.
Patterson said the work is progressing "very well." He said plans for the subdivision entail using all the natural rock that's available for landscaping.
Zoning official likes the project
Town Zoning Administrator Rudy Frost told members of the Payson Planning and Zoning Commission in February that Stone Creek owners are planning to build a quality development.
Frost encouraged the commission to grant the subdividers conditional use permits to allow them to build 20 model homes on the property.
"People will not buy what they cannot see," he told the commissioners.
Planning and Zoning commissioners voted unanimously to approve the conditional use permits, and work has been steady at the site.
Patterson said there will be two phases of construction of the model homes. The first phase, with 10 model homes, will be on line within three months. The second phase, with another 10 models, will be completed within four months after the first phase is completed.
Tom and Becky McGuigan, who live on Rim View Drive behind the project, said they have been spending a lot of time in the Valley and haven't been troubled by the noise of the construction like many of their neighbors have.
Work starts at 7 a.m. and finishes at about 5 p.m. Workers keep the dust down, but the construction is noisy.
"In the beginning, we protested it," McGuigan said. But now, he said, he just figures it's inevitable.
"It's removing some of the landscape behind us -- some of the trees -- but we'll live with it," he said.
McGuigan said he expected from the beginning that some of the trees would be removed.
"It may be a blessing in disguise," he said. "They may have taken some of the fire danger away.
McGuigan said he is now trying to look at the project from a positive standpoint.
The trees on the perimeter of the project have been saved and the lots inside the project have trees around them. Patterson said he saved all the trees in the front of the lots that could be saved and there are natural open space areas in the back of every lot.
But Becky McGuigan said Stone Creek brings a whole new ball game to Payson.
"It's kind of like the big city's come to a small town," she said. "It would have been nice to have a small park in the middle of town, but that was too much to hope for. It's kind of like 'The Field of Dreams' -- build it and they will come.
Patterson said that within two years, a majority of the homes at the subdivision will be sold and built. "We're going to make Stone Creek as beautiful and natural as possible," he said.