Land Exchange Grows Town By 220 Acres

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An arduous decade of negotiations and on-again, off-again legislation ended this month with a federal land swap that will double the size of Montezuma's Castle National Monument, in return for 220 acres next to the Payson airport that could be used for housing and an industrial park.

The forest service finalized the long-suffering deal three weeks ago -- after dropping almost 90 percent of the originally proposed swap, said Kevin Sokol, a local contractor involved in the land exchange.

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The nine parcels of land, in yellow, comprising 220 acres near the Payson airport have been acquired in a land exchange with the National Forest Service. The land is slated for new homes and businesses.

"It has been 12 years of pure

frustration at times, but it's finally done and we can move forward," Sokol said.

In 1995, a group of landowners offered 1,800 acres of private land within national forests in exchange for 1,200 acres of forest service land in Payson.

"This has been such a long process that over the years, some people have dropped out of the exchange proposal and the size of the exchange changed," Sokol said.

The land offered to the National Forest Service dwindled to 270 acres, and the land sought near the airport dropped to 220 acres, he added.

The 220 acres at the airport is in exchange for 157 acres adjacent to Montezuma's Castle outside Camp Verde, and another 111 acres near Double Cabin Park about 10 miles south of Mormon Lake near Flagstaff.

Negotiations are now in progress with the Town of Payson to determine exactly what use to make of the 220 acres south and west of the airport, which will probably involve a rezoning, Sokol said. Current plans call for businesses, an industrial park, apartments and homes, depending on a proposed rezoning. The site already has access to utilities and some roads.

"We're still working with the interested parties to see what they want and what is available, but groundbreaking is at least a year away," he added.

Another 13 acres running along Airport Road has been set aside for airport expansion and businesses, Sokol said.

He said public hearings will allow Payson residents to provide input on how to use the property.

Sokol said that despite the long, difficult process, the end result will pay off for Payson.

"We tried doing this through an administrative process, but when we realized it was going to take even longer than it already had, we decided to approach it from a legislative angle through Western Land Group," Sokol said.

The Denver-based Western Land Group specializes in legislative land exchange negotiations.

Congress approved Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi's original bill for the land swap in 2003, but it took another four years to work out the details.

"After the bill was signed in 2003, there were a host of legal issues like mining claims and other legal matters that had to be cleaned up, as well as personnel issues in the forest and park service that had to be addressed before we could finalize the deal earlier this month," Sokol said.

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