The once-contentious 83-unit Mogollon Ridge subdivision continued its progress toward revival Thursday, Feb. 21, when the Payson Council heard the first reading of a zone change request, with expressions of support and questions about affordable housing.
The 12.4-acre mix of single-family houses and townhouses had spurred debate and political aftershocks in developer Mike Horton's two previous efforts to win approval, playing a key role in town water politics and provoking fierce neighborhood opposition.
However, months of shuttle diplomacy by Mayor Bob Edwards and Horton's agreement to contribute $200,000 toward solving existing, neighborhood drainage problems so mollified neighborhood opposition that no one protested the proposed zone change for the first time in several years.
The councilors all praised the project and supported the rezoning that boosted the number of units allowed on the parcel from 4 to 83.
Several councilors also questioned whether the agreement to pay about two-thirds the cost of solving chronic problems for 10-15 existing homes on or near Houston Mesa Road was enough to relieve the developer of the need to contribute to affordable housing and comply with certain portions of the town's tough drainage ordinance.
Councilor Andy Romance said just because the developer had mollified the neighbors didn't mean the council should not consider traffic, affordable housing and maintaining the town's drainage requirements.
"Obviously the neighborhood wasn't concerned about workforce housing because they have their housing. There needs to be some commitment to that up here. If all we do is listen to the neighborhood, then we're fostering mob rule," said Romance.
Several council members appeared surprised when they learned that Horton had negotiated relief from a relatively new town requirement that developments reduce runoff by 25 percent, generally with retention basins.
"Because of the downstream contribution of $200,000, we're asking the council not to increase runoff, rather than meet the 25 percent reduction," said Ralph Bossert, of Tetra Tech.
The only member of the public to speak pleaded with the council to approve the deal, which will redo the drainage in the neighborhood at a cost of about $20,000 for each of the roughly 15 houses now facing chronic yard and garage flooding from street runoff as a result of drainage for other, earlier projects.
"This is our only hope of getting our problem fixed," said Kerry Whaley, a resident of Payson Ranchos.
Before the planning commission, Horton had said meeting the 25 percent drainage reduction requirement would significantly reduce the number of houses he could fit on the property.
Most of the council discussion centered on affordable housing, after Housing Commission member and council candidate Richard Croy asked Mayor Bob Edwards why no one ever consulted the commission.
Currently, the town requires "voluntary" contributions to low-income housing. The town has accumulated a million dollars' worth of promised low-income housing assistance, although the building slump has made the timing of those pledges problematic. The $200,000 in offsite drainage programs had been used to offset the housing requirement as well.
"We're trying to solve a problem," responded Edwards.
"We've got some (neighborhood) people with wet feet. A lot of homes are threatened with mold and other damage, but the town didn't have the money to fix that problem."
The developer observed that additional costs -- like a $1,000 per unit affordable housing fee on top of about $15,000 in other town fees -- would likely sink the project.
However, Horton said they would consult with the housing commission about a financing plan that would offer buyers a lower-than-prime interest rate on a no-money-down loan to buy the $240,000 to $350,000 units.
Councilor Mike Vogel said he would want to see the affordable housing contribution detailed when the project came back for a second reading of the zone change request in late March.
Councilor Su Connell also questioned whether all concerns about traffic problems raised by the neighbors in previous hearings had been addressed.
Bossert said the project would generate about 660 trips a day and that McLane and Houston Mesa Roads fronting the projects were designated as collector streets, which means they should be able to handle the projected traffic 2020 volume of 4,800 cars per day.
However, council candidate and Surface Transportation Advisory Committee Chairman Tom Loeffler later rose from the audience to urge the council to consider the impact of new project on narrow, inadequate connector streets, like McLane.
"McLane isn't a collector street, it wouldn't even qualify as a local road and you're going to add 600 trips a day. You have to look beyond that subdivision at the impact on substandard roads in this town."