Council Finds Vital Piece Of The Puzzle

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Assembling a great community is like asking a relay team put together some monster jig saw puzzle.

You need jobs. You need healthy businesses.

You need free-spending people to buy stuff.

You need working people to sell them stuff.

You need parks, water when you twist the tap, someplace to eat, neighborhood schools, friendly folks, a place to stretch your legs, something to do on the weekend. You need something beautiful to look at, something useful to do, somewhere for your kids to work in their turn -- you need fishing holes.

Everyone in such a vibrant, human and flexible community makes their contribution.

But the town councils -- changing like the seasons -- play an especially vital role since they put in place the planning and zoning and succession of projects that determine whether the physical and economic setting of the town makes possible the flourishing of the sort of community we all long to live in.

Last night, the town council quietly approved one of those key pieces -- like finding the oddly shaped puzzle piece with a stretch of the horizon, that connects to four other bits you had been pondering for years.

The Chilson Ranch project, approved without fanfare last night, will provide the means to construct a waterfall that will help define the town, solve difficult flooding problems along Main Street, provide a 3-acre park along an artificial stream, cleanse and restore the Green Valley Lakes, provide urgently needed commercial development, bring in perhaps 300 new residents and play a key role in a redevelopment process that has been more stagnant than the lakes in the park.

But the Chilson Ranch also serves as a cautionary tale -- since the council's indecision delayed the project for five years, nearly bankrupted the developer and boosted the ultimate cost of the units by perhaps 50 percent before last night's happy resolution.

By all accounts, Mayor Kenny Evans deserves a large measure of the credit for finding a way to make one project solve many problems. He had the imagination to see the connection between two distinct problems and the stubborn energy to create the connection.

Previous visionary councils had the imagination to create Green Valley Park, which turned treated wastewater into a wonderful amenity. A decade of evaporation has caused the buildup of sediment and spurred the growth of algae and turned the water murky.

Evans' idea was to pump the water to the top of a nearby butte, then waterfall it into a chain of pools, lined with filters which would capture the nutrients and sediments. The cooled, oxygenated water would then return to the lakes through a constructed stream running down the American Gulch. The result will save the lakes, provide Chilson Ranch with a major selling point and provide residents with hiking, biking and riding trails running alongside a musical stream.

But there's more. The project will provide solar energy to pump the water, flood control to benefit a stretch of Main Street, a bridged crossing at McLane, an injection of new residents to bolster the existing shops on Main Street and a chunk of commercial development that could, in theory inject $10,000 a month in new sales tax revenue into town coffers, plus an infusion of tax revenue to boost redevelopment efforts.

Our chief concern in studying the imaginative project lies in the $340,000 to $600,000 projected price tags on the duplex and six-plex luxury condos. We earnestly hope that the developer can sell every one of those units in phases over the next five years as she projects.

But we also remain deeply concerned about the lack of workforce housing in Payson and the use of land that could have supported 450 affordable units to build just 158 expensive units provides a perfect example of the incremental way in which the town has tilted toward luxury and second-home developments at the expense of working people.

However, the town has previously coaxed several more affordable complexes for seniors into that same area, so the project will at least contribute to the creative mix of housing types and people that make an area interesting -- and economically viable.

So we congratulate Mayor Evans for his vision, developer Hallie Jackman for her persistence and good cheer, the council for its decision and hope that Jackman now manages to find all the other bits of the puzzle to make the project a roaring success.

In the meantime, we're just delighted to discover that this bright blue piece of the community puzzle with the horizon on it also has a pretty waterfall.

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