The latest effort to create affordable housing in Payson was shot down Thursday by the Payson Town Council, even though a majority of the councilmembers supported the project.
The proposed 203-housing unit subdivision needed six votes out of seven to gain rezoning approval because more than 20 percent of the property owners within 150 feet of the proposed development officially protested the project. That triggered a state law that requires a "super majority" for approval.
The Payson Planning and Zoning Commission recommended that the council deny the rezoning request, which would have allowed developers to build homes starting at $80,000 near Mazatzal Mountain Air Park and the Payson Municipal Airport. The council voted four to three in favor of the project, but the vote fell short of the super majority needed for a project go-ahead.
The naysayers were Mayor Ray Schum; councilmember Barbara Brewer, who said that a larger local problem than affordable housing is low wages which make housing unaffordable; and councilmember Hoby Herron, whose primary concern was the town's limited water supplies.
Voting for the proposal were councilmembers Dick Wolfe, Ken Murphy, Jim Spencer and Bryan Siverson, each of whom expressed concern that an opportunity to create affordable housing may not come this way again.
The thrust of Schum's opposition was what he called the questionable affordability of the homes. Producing a chart which he said penciled out the numbers, Schum noted that bottom-level minimum wage workers who can only afford monthly mortgage payments of $305 to $370 per month would not be able to afford the $690 to $838 monthly mortgage payments the new $80,000 to $100,000 homes would require.
That approach irritated councilmember Wolfe.
"We're not talking about minimum wage people here," Wolfe said after the votes were tallied. "That shouldn't even have been brought up. This was never intended for minimum wage workers. We're talking middle-income people, families that support our community. Police, fire, hospital workers, teachers.
"I'm very disappointed. This may be out last, best effort at providing some housing for our working families," he said. "The bottom line is that nobody wants it in their back yard."
Defending his presentation, Schum said, "Let's use the teachers for example. They want to start beginning teachers here at $22,000 a year. And it's a government rule that not more than 30 percent of your income should go to housing. That would make them short by $5,000.
"So it isn't this housing (that teachers need)," Schum said. "Teachers need more money. And that holds true for nurses and everybody else."
The zone change request by project director William Broce sought to allow the development of 203 affordable housing units near Mazatzal Mountain Air Park in a subdivision to be called Mountainaire. Broce has said the homes would range in price from about $80,000 for two-bedroom models to $100,000 for those with four bedrooms.
From the beginning, the project has been opposed by Mazatzal Mountain Air Park's residents and property owners many of whom are pilots who operate their planes on the area's streets and runways, and who have been highly vocal on the issues of ground safety and airport viability.
Payson Planning and Zoning Commission also opposed the project from the beginning, voting Monday for the second time to deny the rezoning application.
"Basically, we felt the project was incompatible with the existing zoning," P and Z commissioner Frank Daria said.
"The bottom line comes down to high risk. We're risking an over $8 million operation at the airport, along with 132 jobs. ... The FAA, ADOT, and the airport's own maintenance and operations manual ... all say, 'Do not rezone and co-mingle medium-density with low-density residential,'" Daria said. "I believe in paying attention to the experts."
Daria and his fellow no-voters commissioners Ruth Craig, Don Harmon and Georgia Salwitz were also concerned about the true affordability of the homes.
"When you start adding normal house costs, the mortgage, homeowner association fees, utilities ... you're bumping or going over what's affordable to the very people who we're trying to supply with affordable housing," Daria said.
Commissioner Robert Flibotte, who voted in favor of the rezoning, thinks otherwise.
"My read on the development package was that there were adequate safeguards that not only would bring the homes on the market at a reduced value ... but the protections would prevent speculation and quick profit from taking place," he said. "Those safeguards, to me, were very adequate and very well spelled out."
Now that the town council has defeated the rezoning application, Broce still has some options although none involving affordable housing.
"He could come back in with another plat (which meets) the zoning requirements, and proceed with that," Community Development Director Bob Gould said. "He could come in with a residential air park if he wanted to. And for that, he wouldn't have to go through any zoning."
As it turns out, there is a backup plan for the property. But according to Broce, it's not his plan.
"Either way, there's going to be homes in there," Broce said prior to the Council's vote. "If they don't pass the affordable (homes project), then somebody not me is ready to step in and build 150 homes on 12,000-square-foot lots, which the current zoning allows. "
At the time he was interviewed, however, Broce was still hoping Mountainaire would somehow survive the Town Council's super majority vote.
"This is kind of my last chance," he said. "I've worked on this thing for three years. We need it so bad. Now is the time for the council people who (campaigned) on the promise of affordable housing to stand up and be counted."