Planning Group Gets Glimpse Of Airport Plan

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Payson could realign Airport Road to allow a long strip of commercial and industrial development fronting the airport and new subdivisions south of the road, Community Development Director Jerry Owen told the Payson Planning Commission on Monday.

Owen presented a series of maps anticipating major changes in the zoning and development plans south of the Payson Airport, all spurred by a recent 220-acre land exchange between a private developer and the federal government.

Currently, Airport Road hugs the ugly backsides of a string of airport buildings. On the existing zoning map, low-density residential zoning abuts the runway, a chunk of industrial zoning is squeezed in between existing housing developments and there's a 36-acre patch of open space that will never happen, said Owen.

The land trade has triggered a study of the area, which should result in a request by private developers to launch the five-month process of amending the town's general plan for the whole airport area.

The revised plan starts with shifting Airport Road a little south, making way for a strip of commercial and industrial zoning north of the realigned road -- generally with 200-foot deep lots. That should feed into an effort by the newly spun off Airport Authority to come up with new ways to turn the airport into a major economic boost for the town, now dependent on tourists and retirees and a struggling retail sector.

The shift in the road alignment would then open the way to zone the chunk of land to the south for housing developments -- perhaps apartments or condos along the road, shading into single family homes and perhaps large lots further south.

The current General Plan also includes a 36-acre park, but that was inserted back when the Forest Service was talking about a 1,200-acre land exchange. Since such land exchanges give cities a certain percentage of land for public use -- the original plan would have yielded a giant park. However, the swap of land near Montezuma's Castle and elsewhere for Forest Service land next to the airport eventually dwindled to just 220 acres.

Owen said the new owners of the former Forest Service land have still agreed to donate about six or seven acres for a park. That could yield enough land to create a linear park with hiking trails in a small canyon with a year-round stream that runs through the southwest corner of the land exchange area, said Owen.

The plan revision will also likely include a wedge of land north of Airport Road running along the west side of an existing subdivision at the north end of the runway. Currently, the land is designated as industrial, but Owen suggested that the town and the developer might want to rethink the plan to squeeze industrial zoning between two existing subdivisions.

"The road realignment is a real plus, so we have a decent road and it also clears up our potential for the commercial aspect," said Commissioner James Scheidt.

Owen noted that he's expecting the developer to submit a request for a General Plan amendment in the next two weeks, which will trigger months of hearings and consultations that will eventually come to the planning commission and then the town council for approval.

Several commissioners said they hoped they could be involved in the plans from the beginning. "Rather than waiting to the very end, couldn't we have some input at the front end?" asked Commissioner Jere Jarrell. Owen promised to bring the preliminary plans back to the commission as soon as they're submitted.

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