Neutrality builds good will.
That's the message the Payson Town Council sent Thursday evening to the tribe when it voted to stay impartial in a pending federal land exchange agreement.
The council's action allows the Tonto Apaches to move forward with an environmental assessment without the town's interference.
"This tells them that they should go ahead with the environmental assessment and we have nothing to add," said Town Attorney Sam Streichman.
An environmental assessment evaluates a project's impact on the ecology.
According to a Sept. 1 letter sent by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Tonto Apaches have applied for the transfer of 293 acres of its newly acquired property into trust, making it sovereign land.
Before that happens, the BIA will conduct an environmental assessment to determine the impact of that transfer.
As a courtesy, the BIA sent a letter asking the council to address any concerns it has with the project.
Payson resident and former town councilor Robert Henley said the town could pose questions later on.
"You have an opportunity to look and see what happens," he added.
Meanwhile, the council applauded its tribal neighbors for extending the offer.
"I look forward to a good, working relationship with them," Mayor Bob Edwards said.
"It's a positive move forward," Councilor Su Connell added.
The council also approved the 14-unit final plat of Manzanita Hills Phase 6. Nearby resident Al Poskanzer said he was concerned that the new housing would block the migration patterns of elk, cutting them off from a local water source.
"Land development is permanent," Poskanzer said. "Once you do it, you can't take it back."
A unanimous council decision allows construction to move forward. The developer, Bruce Griffin, agreed to restrict fences on four of the lots to preserve the area's flora and fauna.
To take advantage of some recently granted rights of way by the Arizona Department of Transportation, the council directed town staff to draft a new ordinance that sets a consistent look for landscaping and business signage.
In 2005, ADOT transferred slices of state land -- from the back of the curb to the private property line -- to the Town of Payson.
The new ordinance would allow private property owners along Highways 87 and 260 to upgrade this town-owned frontage as long as they paid for and maintained the improvements.
Community Development Director Jerry Owen said his department is researching the replanting of ponderosa pines uprooted by development.
Councilor Mike Vogel led a council effort to table a proposal submitted by the water department to purchase new software that makes data collection more efficient. Vogel said he needed a better understanding of and more information on the proposed $43,000 expenditure.
"To come in and ask me to submit to this kind of money and no facts to back it up ... it's not acceptable," Vogel said. The council will revisit the motion at its Oct. 5 meeting.