If the audience had been polled at Thursday's Payson Town Council meeting, there would have been a fast majority "nay" on the zone change request which would allow the development of 203 affordable housing units near Mazatzal Mountain Air Park.
But while the attendees mostly Air Park residents and pilots who operate their planes on the area's streets and runways were highly vocal about the issues of ground safety and airport viability, they were not in charge.
"This is far too important an issue to vote on tonight, because there are too many questions left unanswered, too many facts that we don't have," Mayor Ray Schum finally declared before the council sent the issue back to the town's Planning and Zoning board.
The board had previously rejected the rezoning application with a three-to-two vote because its members "felt like we were being pushed into making a decision, and we didn't like that," said Payson Planning and Zoning Chairman Ruth Craig.
The controversy swirls around the proposed development of the subdivision "Mountainaire" on a 52-acre site directly north of the Mazatzal Mountain Air Park.
The residential subdivision would consist of 203 "affordable housing units" which project director Bill Broce said would range in price from approximately $80,000 for two-bedroom models to $100,000 for those with four bedrooms.
The lot sizes would vary, with a minimum of 6,200 square feet and a maximum of 30,573 square feet.
With the site's current R1-12 zoning, the minimum lot size is 12,000 square feet; the R1-6 zoning being requested by Broce would allow the dimensions he has proposed.
Among the questions unaddressed or only vaguely answered by the application, Schum said, was the precise affordability of the proposed homes, noise attenuation, "the flight easement and what that really means," and certain legal issues.
"This is a hot topic and we're not going to be able to come to a decision tonight," Schum said. "P and Z has voted against it ... The affordable housing committee is unanimously in favor of this. The airport board is unanimously against it. The Payson Economic Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce are unanimously in favor of this. And within the town staff itself, some are for and some are against. So this is going to be a very difficult issue for us to face."
Broce said that 1.74 acres of the development would be utilized as a fenced, 30-foot-to-100-foot buffer between the air park and the subdivision; that air traffic would not fly over it; that Mountainaire residents would sign documents stating that they accepted whatever noise and overflight problems that might occur; and that the Air Park's streets which home-owning pilots use to approach their community runway would not be used by residents of Mountainaire.
But those promises were not enough for the Air Park residents who were present some of whom pointed out that 203 families could bring to the area as many as 400 children who might not pay attention to chain-link fences.
"We are a hazard for people on the street," said Air Park homeowner Jeannette Werle, "and they are a hazard for us."
Another Air Park resident, Robert Henley, reminded the council that on March 25, 1999, the town council adopted the Payson Municipal Airport Management Operations and Maintenance Plan, from which Henley read this passage: "Aviation uses should continue to be encouraged at the Sky Park Mazatzal Mountain Air Park and the proposed Payson Air Ranch. It would not be a good idea for single-family or multi-family residential uses that would be incompatible with airport operations to occur adjacent to the airport."
Among those arguing in favor of Mountainaire was Rick Croy, chairman of the Payson Housing Advisory Committee. "This is the closest thing to (an affordable housing) solution," he said.
Russell Judd, CEO of Payson Regional Medical Center and representative of the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation, was another Mountainaire booster.
"We have a very difficult time recruiting qualified medical people to our community because they cannot find a place to live," Judd said. "We have had nurses come to our community who want to live and work here ... but after they go out and try to find a house, they come back and say, 'I'm sorry, we cannot take the job, because we cannot buy a house in this town that is satisfactory to raise my family ...
"Payson is a family community, and it needs to be a family community. We need to support this action."