Mistake Puts Town, Resident Up Against Stone Wall

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It was not the purchase of land along Main Street, nor the on-again-off-again Payson IV land exchange that drew the majority of debate Thursday, but rather a fence mistakenly built by a Payson resident on the town's right-of-way.


Edward Rathjen of North Colcord Circle relayed his dilemma to the Payson Town Council at its Thursday night meeting.


"I replaced the retaining wall that was previously there by the previous owners," Rathjen said. "That wall had been there for 20 years, and was basically a rock retaining wall."


To protect his yard from javelina, and to keep his dogs confined, Rathjen said he was rebuilding that wall with slump block, thereby reinforcing its integrity while increasing the curbside appeal of his property.


Rathjen discovered his mistake when he received a letter in early August from Town Engineer LaRon Garrett informing him that he would need a right-of-way permit to continue building the wall.


"I understand that it's on the town's property," he said. "I put a lot of money into this fence. I didn't realize at the time that it was on town property. I'm just asking the town to let me keep this retaining wall where it is."


Mayor Vern Stiffler said the wall limits visibility at the intersection of Colcord and Pinecone circles. The mayor said he can't see around the wall. Council member Jim Spencer said he had no trouble seeing.


Nevertheless, Rathjen said he plans to put a chain link fence on top of the retaining wall.


"You can't see through a chain link fence at an oblique angle," Town Manager Rich Underkofler said.


Following the debate, Vice Mayor Ken Murphy moved to approve a variance for Rathjen's fence, dependent upon further negotiations with the town's engineering staff to ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians in the area.


With a three-to-three vote, the motion died for lack of majority. Council member Hoby Herron was on vacation this week.

Main Street purchase

Another hot topic before the council dealt with the town's intent to purchase 2.9 acres of land from Kaibab Industries -- land that would be used to build a north-to-south connector road from Main Street to Aero Drive. The remainder of the purchased property would be used for off-street parking, to accommodate the redevelopment of Main Street near Kaibab's proposed Sawmill Crossing.


Bob Gould, Community Development Director, told the council that acreage was recently appraised at $190,214. If approved, staff recommendation is to purchase the land at a cost of roughly $50,000 for the next four years.


Payson resident Ruby Finney argued against the purchase, saying that if off-street parking is needed for Sawmill Crossing, the developers and associated businesses should form an improvement district, just like other areas have done for lighting or street improvements.


"The same rules should apply to everyone," Finney said.


Council member Jack Monschein said he was in favor of the Main Street redevelopment, but was concerned that the connector road would either force traffic to turn onto narrow McLane Road, or out to the Beeline-Aero intersection --a corner he deemed "the worst intersection in town."


Mayor Stiffler also voiced opposition to the proposal.


"I strongly object to using the council decision request process as a means of bypassing the capital improvement process," the mayor said. Approval of this item, he said, would force the town to immediately focus its attention on the Main Street project.


After brief statements of support by Kaibab's Paul Peterson and Gordon Whiting, and Realtor Bob McQueen, the motion to approve the purchase passed 4-to-2, with the mayor and Monschein dissenting.

Airport expansion

In other business, the council addressed the submission of applications to the Federal Aviation Administration and the Arizona Department of Transportation's aeronautics division. The two applications, totaled $1,233,000 --$633,000 to purchase 13.5 acres of land for expansion, and $600,000 for T-hangars.


While there was discussion about the airport expansion in relation to the on-again-off-again Payson IV land exchange, Murphy pointed out that one had nothing to do with the other.


"We're only talking about the grant applications here," he said, not about whether the town was buying the land from the U.S. Forest Service or the Payson IV investors.


In the end, the submission of the two grant applications was approved unanimously.

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