The impression most visitors get when they drive through Payson for the first time is of a series of strip malls punctuated only by fast food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations.
The town took a first step toward eliminating such eyesores along its business corridors with the unanimous approval of a design review ordinance by the planning and zoning commission.
If approved by the town council at its next meeting on April 14, the ordinance would at least serve as a starting point to work toward improving the aesthetics of Payson according to Community Development Director Bob Gould.
"I see these regulations as something that will be a stopgap because such things as the Blockbuster store and the dollar store are extremely unattractive," he said.
The purpose of the new ordinance, as stated in its introduction, is to change the architectural emphasis from contemporary to rustic.
"The impetus behind the development of these regulations is the preservation of our mountain forest character as applicable to a small rural community," the document reads. Applicable to all commercial and industrial-zoned areas with the exceptions of Sky Park Industrial Park and the Green Valley Redevelopment Area, the new ordinance favors natural landscaping and the preservation of natural features such as large trees, rock outcrops and view sheds.
The ordinance would apply to all new construction, but only to the portions of existing buildings that are being remodeled, repainted, or re-signed.
Specifically, new buildings must use designs and materials compatible with small mountain forest communities.
In addition, natural landscaping must be preserved where possible; town-approved drip irrigation systems must be used with new landscaping; and buildings and parking areas must be located to preserve existing ponderosa pines, significant rock outcrops, or other exceptional natural features. Building and other exterior colors must be selected from a historic America color palette approved by the town.
During the discussion leading to approval of the ordinance, some sentiment emerged for applying it to residential areas as well as commercial.
"I'm a firm believer that it needs to be city-wide," Commissioner James Scheidt said. "And we don't just want to earmark this for commercial, because it's not only commercial that gives us the unsightly conditions we have in this town; it's years and years of nobody paying attention to what's going on."
The commission also recognized that what has taken decades to create will not be corrected overnight.
"This is just a start," Commissioner Mark Waldrop said. "It's an ongoing thing; we probably won't in our lifetime see the realization of this, but hopefully a hundred years from now we will see it and ... it's long overdue."
The new ordinance also bans metal buildings that do not adhere to design and materials standards.
The restriction triggered some debate among the commission.
"Metal buildings have gotten so much better than they were 15 years earlier," Commissioner Jere Jarrell said. "Metal buildings are becoming more and more popular, and more and more versatile, and more and more useful."
But Scheidt argued in favored of the ban.
"I'm sorry gentlemen, but in my estimation metal buildings do not belong in a commercial district for retail sales," he said. "We just put up a brand new metal building on one of our busiest streets in this town and it looks like something that was built 30 years ago."
The impetus for a design review ordinance came in January when Jeanie Langham and the rest of the Main Street Design Review Committee asked the town council for authority to develop a town-wide commercial ordinance.
While the town can take pride in its residential neighborhoods, parks, museums and projects such as Main Street, Langham told the council that business corridors along highways 87 and 260 do not reflect well on the community.
"Unfortunately, we are concerned that the commercial corridors of our town do not mirror the image of what we really are," she said.
Gould said in the future, the ordinance will be redrafted or expanded for elaboration.