Airport Homeowners Try To Block New Shelter

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The sale of the eight Sky Park Industrial complex lots owned by Payson is now in the hands of Town Manager Fred Carpenter, and may eventually land the town in court.

At a special meeting April 22, the council voted 5-2 to give the town manager authority to negotiate the sale of the lots. During the discussion, a group of property owners threatened to sue the town if four of the lots are sold to the Payson Humane Society for its new shelter.

After considerable discussion the motion, proposed by Councilor Robert Henley, underwent several changes in wording. Much of the discussion focused on how to best use the lots for economic development and under what council guidelines Carpenter should work to negotiate the sale of the lots.

Among their possible choices was to sell to the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation, the Payson Humane Society, two family trusts, or enlist the services of a real estate broker.

The town staff recommendation was to choose the offer from the humane society and then bring on board a real estate broker to sell the remaining lots. In the recommendation, some lots also could be turned over to the PREDC.

Legal battle

The humane society wants to purchase four of the Sky Park lots to build a new facility to replace the current shelter located in an old house on McLane Road. The town is interested in acquiring the current shelter property to incorporate into its American Gulch project.

A group of property owners in the Mazatzal Mountain Air Park subdivision who oppose selling lots to the shelter have retained the services of attorney Michael Harper, who presented their position at the meeting.

"There's 35 people who own property in the area who are opposed to the animal shelter," Harper told the council. "The opposition is really quite simple -- the idea is there is going to be a devaluation of property values in the area, especially at the Mazatzal Mountain Air Park where property values are quite high. One of my clients just recently listed his property for $660,000."

Harper threatened a lawsuit against the town if it sells the lots to the shelter, a move that he said would tie up the properties indefinitely.

After initially being rebuffed by Mayor Ken Murphy when she attempted to respond, retired attorney Carol Stubbs, legal advisor to the PHS, was allowed to address the council.

"To assume that having a state-of-the-art animal shelter in an industrial park will somehow devalue their property is beyond speculation," Stubbs said. "Considering that there are private property owners (in Sky Park) who would be willing to sell, to ask the city not to sell to the humane society seems rather premature."

Stubbs said the new shelter would be modeled after the Arizona Humane Society's Campus for Compassion, located on the southwest corner of 15th Avenue and Dobbins Road at the base of the South Mountain Nature Preserve in Phoenix.

"We're fighting a lot of ignorance," she said. "People seem to think that the animal shelter is going to be the old house and the open concrete kennels that are over on McLane, and I would really ask every one of those 35 property owners to drive down to Phoenix and sit in the parking lot of that new building. You will smell nothing. You will hear only the birds singing in the trees."

Following the meeting, Stubbs asked Harper for an opportunity to meet with his clients. So far, she said yesterday (Thursday), Harper has not responded.

"At the moment we're just kind of sitting around fuming," she said. "They don't understand what a state-of-the-art shelter is. They don't understand that we're spending $1.5 million not just to comply with federal regulations on animals, which are extensive, but in order to have state-of-the-art, acoustical sound-deadening material like the new shelter in Phoenix. They're a wonderful neighbor, and we would be too."

Stubbs said it was the town that suggested building the new shelter at Sky Park in the first place, but that town officials have gone silent following the April 22 meeting.

"We're still trying to get a deal with the (town), and if we get that we're going to start holding some informational meetings," she said. "If we don't get a larger property, we're not going to be able to continue to handle town and county animals."

Open to suggestions

PHS board member Lisa Boyle said the shelter would consider other locations, but options are limited by zoning regulations.

"We're open to suggestions," she said. "None of us have an emotional tie to that property, but we need a new building. We're doing everything we can."

Stubbs vowed to fight on.

"Like I told (Harper), I'm a retired attorney and I don't have another damn thing in the world to do," she said. "There's nothing worse than a retired lawyer on a mission."

Harper was out of town and promised to comment later.

Payson Community Development Director Bob Gould also was unavailable for comment.

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