Council Drops Job Requirements For Sky Park Lots

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People who want to buy town-owned lots in the Sky Park Subdivision near Payson Municipal Airport won't have to prove they're bringing jobs to town.

The Payson Town Council considered a proposal Tuesday to attach specific economic development conditions to the sale of 11 town-owned lots in the industrial park, but were dissuaded by political activist Ruby Finney and commercial realtor Bob McQueen.

Finney and McQueen are normally opponents on town policy issues, but they teamed up Tuesday to successfully argue against the proposal.

After listening to the pair's arguments and spending 40 minutes in executive session, the council voted 6-1 to sell the lots in blocks of two and to remove the proposed economic development requirements.

Those conditions would have required buyers to begin business operations within 18 months of close of escrow, operate for a minimum of seven years, and maintain a minimum work force of 25 employees with an average annual wage of $25,000.

"We want to let the bidders tell us what they will provide and the price they are willing to pay, and then we will decide if we want to sell," said Payson Town Attorney Sam Streichman.

McQueen said earlier that the town's proposed economic-development conditions would prevent three local business owners from bidding on the lots.

"You are holding a half-million dollars in equity hostage," he told the council, "because you are not going to find that many companies with 25 employees."

The town repossessed the 11 lots after their owners failed to pay the municipal improvement assessments on their properties.

Finney said the town should turn the lots over to a private broker and get out of the real estate business.

"I hate to shock everybody," she said, "but I came here to support Mr. McQueen. You have buyers who are ready to buy, and you're making it impossible for them. Why not sell for the fair market price instead of playing 'let's make a deal.'"

The council then adjourned into a second executive session for legal advice concerning the town's water-supply contract with the Tonto Apache Indian Tribe. Following that 40-minute session, the council voted to pursue negotiations with the tribe for a new water agreement.

A five-year agreement to supply water to the tribe expired in 1999, Town Manager Rich Underkofler said.

"We made a proposal and they made a counterproposal, but then they had their election and things kind of got dropped," he said.

The tribe is the town's biggest water customer, Payson Mayor Ray Schum said.

"It's important that we sit down together in some format so we can work together on issues like this that are of mutual concern," he said.

The council also approved the 2001 Focused Future Plan a document developed by town and business leaders that delineates priorities, responsibilities and timetables for promoting economic development.

"It represents the final results of a meeting held last Nov. 17 that was attended by 25 people from the town, the Payson Regional Economic Development Corp. and the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce," Community Development Director Bob Gould said.

The 2001 Focused Future Plan is divided into seven key result areas: Business Development/New Economy, Financing Development Program for Sources of Water Supply, Housing Mix/Diversity, Community Amenities/Quality of Life, Promote Good Relations with the Tribal Nation, Development of Payson as a Destination Location and Promote Senior Industries.

Underkofler said the plan will serve as a guide for the town in developing and recommending a budget.

Schum then directed Vice Mayor Dick Wolfe, who participated in the meeting by telephone because he is recovering from minor surgery, to oversee the implementation of the Focused Future Plan.

In other action, the council held a first reading and public hearing on an amendment to the town uniform building code "to increase the size of the Building Advisory Board to seven members and to extend its jurisdiction and purpose to permit the review of town codes, ordinances, rules and regulations," and the making of recommendations to the town council for revising those that unnecessarily increase the cost of development.

The proposed changes to the code are the result of an effort by Schum and Wolfe to address the cost of the town's impact fees for water, sewer, streets and parks, and costly code and zoning requirements.

The council also voted to establish an infill incentive district within the Green Valley Redevelopment Area.

"This is a new program authorized by the state legislature," said Streichman, "and it adds another layer of advantages we can provide developers in this area, such as reducing or waiving impact fees and water requirements and relief from development standards."

He said the infill district will include all land in the redevelopment area. A specific plan will be developed and presented to the council in February.

Finally, the council approved the $23,350 first phase of a master drainage study of American Gulch. The proposed agreement, with Tetra Tech, Inc. of Phoenix, calls for the creation of a conceptual watercourse management plan for a 74-acre area south of West Main Street, north of West Aero Drive and west from Sawmill Crossing to Green Valley Parkway.

The plan is designed to provide guidance to potential developers, allowing the town to manage the flood plain and guide growth in the area.

"We want to improve the area to some kind of park-like setting with streams and lakes," Public Works Engineer LaRon Garrett said.

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