Water And Affordable Housing In The Balance

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Town officials seemed to agree on one thing Tuesday at a work session to consider the town's current water policy as it affects affordable housing: it's a "Catch 22" situation.

The work session was attended by members of the town's Housing Advisory Committee, who were asked to come up with a definition of affordable housing as it relates to the Town of Payson.

The council discussed Council member Jim Spencer's proposal that the current 20 equivalent residential unit (ERU) limit be raised to 100 for multi-family residential projects. Current town rules require any developer with a project needing more than 20 ERUs worth of water to find a new water source for the project. Those at 20 ERUs or under can instead pay the town a water impact fee.

Spencer said that the change would not so much affect growth as it would encourage affordable housing.

Council members agreed that affordable housing is currently lacking for people who provide needed services, but stopped short of supporting Spencer's proposal.

A part of the discussion centered on water resource management, which has been proposed by town staff as part of the town's yearly update of its strategic plan.

Rationing or limits?
The council discussed alternatives to its present '"first come, first served" policy: rationing ERUs or limiting the amount of building applications that could be given out in a prescribed time period.

Spencer had argued in his proposal that, under the current limitations, the marketplace is being driven by large-lot 20-unit subdivisions with large, expensive homes.

Real estate broker Cliff Potts told the council that with the current policy, multi-family housing is essentially closed from the market.

"The issue is, there's very little affordable housing. Employers can't afford to pay the workers enough to live here. We're seeing the effects of this in our businesses."

But Payson resident Bill Michaelis said he has seen as many as 48 houses for sale under $100,000 in a recent real estate publication.

Potts said such housing does exist, but does not qualify for VA or FHA loans or any other subsidized loans.

"It's a 'Catch 22,'" he said.
Town Manager Rich Underkofler told the council that if it wants to implement some of its affordable housing objectives, there are ways to do it.

Underkofler said the council could implement a yearly moratorium for new projects, that it could give preference to developments that include affordable housing, and it could ration ERUs.

Mayor Vern Stiffler asked how long it would take to come up with a plan to limit the number of hookups over a specific time period.

Town Attorney Sam Streichman told the council that, once a plan is enacted, it would take only 30 to 45 days to develop.

Stiffler said, "I'm not budging from 20 ERUs."

Underkofler said Wednesday that he heard no support for the idea of rationing. He said he did hear support for relaxing the ERU limit for affordable housing.

"I heard them say they would look to the Housing Committee for standards," he said.

Stick with it?
At the meeting Tuesday, Council member Hoby Herron agreed with Stiffler. He said he didn't think the town's water supply has improved enough to allow any change in the current policy.

"I don't feel Payson is sitting on a safe supply of water to warrant going to 100 ERUs," he said.

Town council member Ray Schum said that the town is already at a population of 18,000 with the inclusion of its undeveloped lots. According to the Southwest Ground-water Consultants' report, which has been a guideline to the town regarding its water policies, the current water supply is sufficient to provide for a population of 18,000.

Schum said he is not anti-growth or pro-growth. "I just want to take care of the people we have here now," he said.

Council member Ken Murphy suggested that the council look at the issues of water and affordable housing and come to a compromise.

"We're getting to the point where we're not going to be able to offer housing for people who come up here to serve the community," he said.

Council member Barbara Brewer suggested that the town look at new projects on a case-by-case basis. "I feel strongly that we'll have a sufficient water supply," she said.

In his proposal to the council, Spencer said there is a social need and a public demand for more affordable housing in Payson, and that such housing is consistent with both good planning principles and the town's Land Use Plan.

He told the council, "When you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten."

Council member Jack Monschein said that affordable housing cannot take precedence over the safe water yield. "When Southwest Ground-water Consultants can show me we have a surplus of water, I'll look at it then," he said.

Murphy asked Public Works Director Buzz Walker where a developer in Payson would go to find new water.

Walker said his department has been aggressive and successful in finding water within the town, that little remains to be found by private developers.

"We're in a 'Catch 22' position," Walker said. "We're following the master plan. The downsize is, there's not a lot of water left for new people."

A public hearing on the 41-page draft of the 1999 Strategic Plan is scheduled for the Town Council's regular meeting of May 27. Review comments may be made at the meeting.

Written comments prior to the meeting can be sent to Mayor Vern Stiffler, 303 N. Beeline Highway, Payson, AZ 85541.

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