Airport Plan Lands On Council Docket

Amendment cuts parks, apartments, defers road extensions decision

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A general plan change for land near the airport vital to the town’s economic future that has spurred fierce neighborhood opposition goes before the town council Thursday.

People objecting to the ultimate extension of Sherwood Drive and other existing streets jammed a series of hearings held by the planning commission on the plan to change the overall general plan categories on the 220 acres.

The planning commission told residents that the extension of the streets in question isn’t part of the proposal and those road extensions are included in the existing general plan.

The town currently is studying a revision of the transportation element of the existing plan, with a hearing planned before the town’s traffic advisory committee. It could take 18 months or more before the issue of the road extension will come before the council.

So the town council this Thursday in the council chambers won’t directly address the road extensions, but will consider the planning commission’s recommendation that the council approve the changes requested by the landowners — as modified by the commission and the town staff.

The 220-acre parcel was swapped recently by the U.S. Forest Service for privately owned land near Montezuma’s Castle and elsewhere. The acreage on a mesa overlooking Payson represents some of the last, major undeveloped land in the town limits.

The landowners had originally asked for changes that would add a big chunk of apartment zoning, reducing the existing amount of “employment” zoning for businesses and light industry and significantly increase the residential acreage.

However, that proposal provoked significant opposition from two groups, in addition to the people living at the bottom of the hill along Sherwood Drive.

Homeowners living west of North Vista Road objected to plans to put high-density residential zoning that would allow apartments directly across the street.

And Ken Volz, who runs the economic development group responsible for luring new businesses to town, objected to a proposed decrease in land designated for eventual development as light industrial and manufacturing.

He noted that the area around the airport represents the last land in town available for such job-generating development.

As a result of those objections, the landowners agreed to change the proposal.

That modified proposal converted the only major chunk of land in the proposal designated for a park or open space into a long narrow strip running along North Vista, to buffer the homeowners from the west from potential apartment and employment designations.

The modified plan also converted some of the apartment designation and medium-density residential land to light industrial.

Payson currently suffers from an acute shortage of low-cost housing, particularly, apartments. Renters often face high monthly rents and waiting lists for an available apartment.

The town has scattered chunks of apartment zoning downtown, but no apartment projects are on the drawing boards. The airport area offers one of the last areas with a designation for apartments.

The major opposition from homeowners, however, centered on the plans to extend Sherwood and Green Valley Parkway to a widened and realigned Airport Road and the extension of Wagon Trail to the extended Green Valley Parkway.

The current general plan calls for those extensions to provide additional outlets for people living along Sherwood Drive, to provide road access to lots on the front face of the hill and to provide access from the middle of town to the planned apartments, industrial development and apartments on top of the mesa near the airport.

A 1998 traffic study projected the need for the extensions. That study predicted traffic on Sherwood would rise from 2,100 cars per day in 1998 to 4,236 cars per day in 2007 and 10,572 cars per day in 2020 — without the extension of Green Valley Parkway. However, traffic counts on Sherwood haven’t changed much since 1998, despite the prediction of a near-doubling.

The current traffic study could change the projections on which the need for the extension of Sherwood is based.

Residents at the base of the hill living along Sherwood complained that traffic heading up the steep hill to the airport area on the extended street would ruin their quiet neighborhood, since Sherwood currently dead-ends and so carries only local traffic.

Neighborhood groups including the Woodhill Property Owners Association had gathered 379 signatures opposing the extensions.

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