Ordinance Changes Could Define Payson's Future

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Framing contractor Mike Scott is worried. Standing on the construction site, powdered with white dust from cutting housing siding, Scott said a series of proposed ordinances up for Payson Town Council consideration Thursday evening, could influence his livelihood.

Three ordinances specifically impact the future development of Payson by changing the town code, the Unified Development Code and the town's General Plan -- policies that regulate land use, subdivisions and administrative policies.

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Framing subcontractor Mike Scott said an annual cap on building permits could impact his ability to support his family.

Mayor Bob Edwards said he and members of the council hope to slow growth by restructuring the voting composition of the council, eliminating a water-growth management town code, and delaying new zoning requests for the coming year.

The ordinances, scheduled for reading at the council meeting Thursday, are part of a 17-point plan to manage future residential and commercial development.

Members of the real estate and building industries have protested the loudest.

"There's all this fear that the 17-point plan will destroy the town," Edwards said. "The developers won't be hurt. They will be screaming, but not hurt. That's the political approach and what we're trying to do is take a logical approach."

Chair of the Central Arizona Board of Realtors' Work Force Housing Committee, Mike Hughes, said he's concerned about a shift in the makeup of the council's voting power.

"What you end up doing is having a minority rule," Hughes said. "A minority of the councilors can kill something."

According to current town code, four out of seven councilors -- a super majority -- must approve a rezoning request.

Specific circumstances call for the super majority. If 20 percent or more of the surrounding neighbors oppose the rezoning, super majority prevails.

If the code is changed by the council, zoning changes will require a simple majority -- five out of seven ayes. And as land use considerations become more stringent, development will slow, Hughes said.

The council will also hear the public's input to replace a long-standing town code that has controlled growth by requiring developers to provide their own water.

"Originally, it was a bad policy," Hughes said.

It's called the 20 ERU (equivalent residential unit) rule and it forces builders to find water sources for larger housing projects.

"(The ordinance) basically eliminates the distinction between developments that are greater than 20 ERUs and those that are less," said Sam Streichman, town attorney. "Developments for any amount will obtain water from the Town of Payson."

One ERU is based on the monthly water consumption of one household.

Back in 1996, the water department passed the ERU rule, which was based on the concept of the state's Active Management Area (AMA). Five statewide metropolitan AMAs -- managed by the Arizona Department of Water Resources -- slow groundwater consumption by compelling builders to secure an assured water supply of 100 years.

The town's ERU rule attempted to provide these guidelines on a smaller scale, but, Hughes said, this policy has prevented the town from developing land to its best and highest use. Because of its limitations, the ERU rule encouraged builders to construct larger houses on bigger parcels of land. The ERU rule has also caused tension between Payson and its neighboring town, Star Valley. The code doesn't dictate where a developer finds water, as long as it's there.

As a result, Star Valley residents objected to a well drilled in their area.

Hughes said he agrees with the council's intention of replacing the code, but if it's not worded correctly, the code could stifle pending developments.

Edwards said this ordinance and another up for consideration by the council will change over time, depending on the results of upcoming water studies.

Additional growth-controlling mechanisms come into place if the council votes to replace the 20 ERU rule with a 250-unit limit on future growth.

The community development department has proposed a first-come, first-served lottery system to control the disbursement of these units, rather than limiting the number of housing permits.

It works like this: The town will allot 156 single-family units and 94 multi-family units to developers annually.

For instance, a new 25-bedroom apartment complex would account for 25 units, leaving 69 multi-family units for the rest of the year.

Builders, especially those who work on small-scale projects, are concerned that larger subdivisions will consume the majority of the town's allotment, putting them out of business.

Scott, whose construction company builds a maximum of five homes a year, said such a cap could hinder the business' productivity.

"It'll take away from our business," Scott said. "It would affect everybody."

The Payson Town Council meets at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the council chambers.

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