Water, Growth Dominate Four-Hour Council Meeting

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Weighted down by the controversial issues of water and growth, the Payson Town Council struggled through a four-hour marathon meeting Thursday night.

Debates over two new subdivisions took an hour apiece, and nearly another hour was spent debating three agenda items related to the town's decision to take water from Star Valley to fuel its own growth. When it finally ended, the council had:

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Councilor Dick Reese

  • Decided to fight a lawsuit filed by the Committee for Community-Based Growth over its earlier decision not to allow a referendum on taking water from Star Valley.
  • Passed a motion by Councilor Tim Fruth to use Star Valley water only to supplement current reserves and not sell it to developers.
  • Approved a zone change that will allow a 30-unit condominium subdivision to be built at 1900 N. Beeline Highway between The Home Depot and Ponderosa Baptist Church.
  • Approved changes to the Boulder Creek preliminary plat allowing that 20-unit subdivision to move forward.
  • Approved a settlement of the Steps House lawsuit.

But it was what the council didn't do that produced the evening's most dramatic moment. That came when Councilor Dick Reese tried to talk his fellow councilors into allowing the referendum on Star Valley water to take place.

"There is evidence that our town, encouraging multi-property developments which will rely on water from Star Valley, will have a deleterious effect on the long-term availability of water in the Diamond Star-Star Valley region," Reese said. "I urge that this council permit the people of Payson to vote ‘yes' or ‘no' concerning our town being a party to this plan to extract water from Diamond Star-Star Valley."

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Councilor Tim Fruth

But Tom Randall, the attorney hired by the town to provide legal counsel on the referendum, said putting the matter to a vote of the people would be illegal. Most of the council seemed to agree with Councilor Robert Henley that a judge should decide the issue, so Reese dropped his motion.

Then it was Fruth's turn.

"The people have spoken and I have listened," he said. "If and when the town receives its share of the (George Randall-Roy Haught) well -- the 130 gallons per minute that we purchased for $750,000 -- that share should be designated as a cushion for the people the town is already committed to serving ... and should not be used for any development."

Fruth also asked that the town back up its commitment in writing to use the Sky Run wells as monitoring wells only.

Reese responded that while Fruth's motion was "a noble gesture," future councils would not be bound by it and he therefore opposed it.

"I think we're going to find out what the price of right is," he said. "I'm not afraid of that and believe that right will prevail, and therefore (Fruth's motion) isn't necessary."

However Reese again was in the minority, and Fruth's motion passed 6-1. During the course of the discussion both Mayor Barbara Brewer and Councilor Judy Buettner addressed aspects of the Diamond Star-Star Valley water issue they felt have been misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Brewer said she opposed the concept of telling developers to "go out and find water" for their new subdivisions when it was approved in 1999. If, instead, the town had left the search for new water in the hands of Public Works Director Buzz Walker, she said the Diamond Star-Star Valley problem would not have occurred.

Buettner objected to use of the word "taking" when referring to the town's actions relative to the RH-2 well in Star Valley.

"We're following a policy that was set a long time ago," she said. "When it is constantly said we're ‘taking water,' I can't help but think we didn't go out looking for this water. It was somebody else; it was offered by a private person."

The condominium subdivision on the Beeline was approved by a 4-3 vote, with councilors Reese, Fruth and George Barriger opposed.

"It just seems to me that until you can satisfy where the water is going to come from and make sure it's going to be there, even rezoning is inappropriate," Barriger said. "This council has more control at the rezoning stage than we do at any other stage."

The Boulder Creek subdivision was approved after several concessions from the developer, but Hal Baas, secretary-treasurer of the Committee for Citizen-Based Growth, didn't think it was enough.

"I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but (the developer) is essentially offering trail access as a lever to get approval," Baas said.

  • The Steps House lawsuit involves a group home for men. As part of the settlement, the council passed an ordinance redefining group homes that aligns the town with the Federal Fair Housing Act.

The town admitted no liability, but will pay $5,000 into a fair housing fund. Irvine, who also worked with the town on this matter, called it "a successful outcome."

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