Land Exchange Near Completion After Four Years

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The long-awaited exchange to bring more land to the Payson Municipal Airport must be completed by the end of 2006.

Approximately 222 acres around and near the airport, currently owned by the Forest Service, will be exchanged for private property at Montezuma Castle National Monument.

The exchange will provide for expanded commercial development around the airport and residential development east of North Vista Road.

"Right now the land is R1-175," said Town Manager Fred Carpenter. "That means homes can only be built on 4-acre lots."

Of the 222 acres, approximately 80 will be used for residential development, said Town Engineer LaRon Garrett, another 13 around the airport will be used for commercial and employment purposes.

"Basically, the people who wanted the exchange came to us before and we said, ‘Get in line,'" said Payson District Ranger Ed Armenta. There were a number of other exchanges in the system, such as the request by the Tonto Apache Tribe for more land to build homes for their members.

"The proponents pushed it through with a legislative exchange," Armenta said.

The exchange process has been in the works since mid-2002.

The "proponents" Armenta refers to is a group of companies and individuals calling itself Montezuma Castle Land Exchange Joint Venture.

"What happens with the land after the exchange is completed is strictly at the discretion of the proponents," said Ruth Velasco of the Tonto National Forest.

The next step in the process is an appraisal of the property involved. Velasco said that will take place near the end of July or early August.

She said there are about half-a-dozen entities in the venture group and they are being represented by the Western Land Group Inc. of Colorado.

Garrett said once the exchange land is in private hands it will be handled like any other development, going through the zoning process and bringing new water into the town.

He said the town will not be receiving any land directly, except through easements on a number of future roads, but plans to purchase the property around the airport have been discussed for some time.

Property owners adjacent to the land in the exchange have been notified of the activity by mail.

The land involved starts at the westernmost area adjacent to the airport and Mazatzal Mountain Air Park, goes eastward to a boundary with the Woodhill Unit Two Subdivision and south to the forest area between North Vista Road and the Manzanita Hills developments. (On town zoning maps the property carries the lot numbers 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, and Track 40.)

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