A once-controversial 93-home housing development on West Houston Mesa Road this week was reborn amidst neighborhood cheers, thanks to months of shuttle diplomacy by Payson Mayor Bob Edwards and the developer's agreement to spend an estimated $200,000 to solve existing drainage problems in the neighborhood.
Edwards spent months shuttling back and forth between homeowners and developer Mike Horton, facilitating conversations that culminated in a harmonious meeting Monday, Jan. 7, where the once adamantly opposed homeowners praised the 12-acre project.
The key to the agreement was Horton's willingness to contribute to a $400,000 system of underground drainage pipes that would prevent the chronic nuisance flooding of front yards and even garages that have afflicted 6-12 houses in the Payson Ranchos neighborhood.
Horton also agreed to make sure that single-family homes will front the street next to existing neighborhood homes, with the duplex condominiums reserved for the interior of the subdivision. He also agreed to cut about 10 units from the last plan he had submitted.
The Monday meeting clears the way for the planning commission to consider a zone change in February, which should put the issue before the council in late February or March. Horton said he hopes to break ground toward the end of this year.
The friendly meeting with the neighbors also prompted the developer to immediately begin removing a bright orange fence around the property that neighbors have long referred to as the "spite fence."
"I am very happy with the current configuration," said Horton, a Payson developer with some 400 projects to his credit statewide who spent years trying to make this subdivision a reality.
"It was a very intense discussion with the neighborhood and with the town -- and to the extent that it was possible, we sort of met everyone's expectations."
"Payson doesn't have a great record when it comes to handling drainage," said Mayor Edwards, "and what finally dawned on me was that the neighbors have concerns about drainage problems and we need to fix that, but we don't have the money. And then here you have a developer who wants to build a project. So it was just a matter of bringing people together and deciding how we could work together to make this happen."
Local homeowners said Horton's willingness to help with the existing drainage problem was the key.
For years, each new development has added to the flooding problem -- which Horton will now help solve, said Lori Meyers, a Payson Ranchos homeowner who helped negotiate the agreement with Horton.
"We weren't getting any help -- this has been taking place for years before the mayor took it on," said Meyers. "He was constantly working at this and my hat is definitely off to him for his persistence in trying to solve this problem."
The agreement could bring to a close years of complicated controversy that has swirled around the Mogollon Ridge Subdivision. At one point, the development's move to secure a water supply catalyzed the incorporation of the Town of Star Valley, when community leaders argued that a planned well and pipeline could drain the area's water supply.
The subdivision also spurred repeated hearings, protests and rejections and had seemed all but dead -- the untouched lot surrounded by vivid orange plastic sheeting lashed to a chain link fence.
But the contentious history of the development also provides a vivid illustration of the vagaries of neighborhood and town politics.
"I've been involved in Payson since the early 70s -- and live here and I'm committed to Payson," said Horton.
He said the project will add housing to the middle and lower end of the market in Payson, with the duplexes selling for about $270,000 to $340,000 and the houses for about $340,000 to $380,000.
He said that he had been "demonized" by some opponents of the project, often through a failure of communication. "The difference is you have to understand and be sensitive to the community's needs and perceptions. Possibly in the past, we didn't do a good job of that."
Edwards said he set up about four meetings between the developer and the homeowners to hammer out an agreement and spent months on the phone working out arrangements between those meetings.
"I have trouble seeing a problem and not trying to resolve it. We have a great staff and they've been battered for years, but we're trying to get them to look at it from the point of view of how do you solve the problem without getting into confrontations."
But he also acknowledged that his solo shuttle diplomacy effort might come in for criticism in the wake of the contentious mayoral election. "Oh yeah --they say I'm a dictator and the council is my puppet. Well, someone should have sent the other council members the memo -- because I lose the votes as often as I win them."
Meyers said the frustrating fight has also offered a great lesson in how the system works. "You're never going to please everyone. I think a lot of people in the neighborhood would like to see Payson stay the way it is -- but that's not going to happen. So I think they realize that if things are going to move forward, they should move forward in the best possible way."