The Payson Town Council proved exquisitely sensitive to citizen complaints Thursday, Jan. 10 when an overflow crowd of angry homeowners prompted a divided council to back away from a decade-long plan to connect Mud Springs Road to Highway 260.
In addition, protests by local business owners convinced the council to grant the Red Elephant Bakery an exception to the fire code, over the objections of the fire marshal and building director.
Some 200 citizens jammed the council chambers and filled the lobby to protest the Mud Springs extension, the top priority in the town's previously adopted traffic plan. The parade of homeowners predicting out-of-town drivers would turn Phoenix Street into a highway bypass that would endanger children and sick people leaving the hospice center consumed nearly two hours, pushing action on the already crowded agenda past 10 p.m.
In the end, the council voted 4-3 to send the long-debated and much-studied Mud Springs extension back to the Surface Transportation Advisory Board to determine whether signs, speed bumps and other efforts to control and slow traffic would keep Phoenix Street and Mud Springs from becoming a de facto bypass.
The jam-packed hall full of adamant homeowners overshadowed the array of other major issues on the council agenda. The council acted on several other issues, including:
- Approved the free, long-term lease of town land to allow a 150-room hotel and events center to move forward;
- Previewed a new Web site intended to attract tourists to Payson and enable them to plan and trip and book a room to "a mountain town with a Western heritage."
Homeowner protests focused on a proposed $42,000 contract to design a roundabout highway connector as part of the proposed $1.1 million extension of Mud Springs. The council approved the extension last year on a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Edwards and Councilman Ed Blair in opposition. But after Mayor Edwards, who lives in the neighborhood, in December put out an e-mail call for people to oppose the design contract, several homeowners gathered some 200 signatures in protest.
"Will you trade the safety of our children and our seniors and our wildlife for less congestion in some areas? Is that a fair trade?" demanded Shirley Dye, who gathered 77 signatures opposing the plan.
However, longtime resident Ginger Henry strongly supported the extension, which will take traffic off the dangerous connection between Granite Dells and the highway and provide improved circulation and emergency access for the whole southeastern quadrant of the town.
Councilman Mike Vogel said the people living in modest homes on streets like Frontier who suffer from narrow streets crowded with drivers trickling through neighborhoods now didn't bother to make their case, believing the council doesn't care as much about them.
The council voted 4-3 to send the whole issue back to the Surface Transportation Committee for what looks like a six-month series of studies.
Once the smoke cleared from the road debate, the council turned to another long-smoldering issue -- Red Elephant Bakery owner Leoni Dobbins' plea that the council overrule town building and fire officials and let her install a smaller hood and fire suppression system over her restaurant stove. She appealed building officials' ruling that she needed a $15,000 fire suppression system on the stove, hoping for a less-comprehensive hood that would cost more like $10,000.
In the end, the council overruled town officials to carve out an exception for the bakery.
"I think that one size does not fit all," said Councilman Romance.
When it seemed obvious the council was about to grant the exemption, Councilman Vogel, a one-time Chicago firefighter, turned to Chief Building Official Ray LaHaye and Fire Chief Marti deMasi.
"Are you guys satisfied?" he asked.
"As a building official of the Town of Payson, no, I'm not," said LaHaye.
"Burned-out buildings don't attract many tourists," said deMasi.
But in the end, only Vogel voted against a fire code exception the town attorney said would only apply to this one business.
"Unlike the other people here, I've pulled bodies out of burned restaurants. Those rules are made because somebody dies," Vogel said.