Dirt Piles Reveal Source Of Payson's Business Reputation

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If Payson wants to know how it earned a reputation for indifference to businesses needs, town officials need look no further than Hallie Jackman's dirt piles.

The incident illustrates how a sensible precaution can turn into an absurd regulation when applied so zealously it mocks its own intent.

This gives new meaning to the saying, dumb as dirt.

We pondered the incident as we listened to Mayor Kenny Evans give a Thursday speech about the changing of the guard at town hall and the potentially dramatic shift in attitude toward growth and business.

The dirty little tale goes something like this.

Jackman has spent the last five years trying to win town approval to build about 160 luxury condominiums and a new commercial building just off Main Street, running along the American Gulch.

It all seemed poised to end happily enough when Jackman and Evans huddled and figured out a way to build the state's tallest man-made waterfall behind the Chilson Ranch project. The project would both cleanse water from the Green Valley Park lakes and create a meandering, linear artificial stream bordered with biking, hiking and riding paths.

Jackman agreed to seek grants for the innovative project, lay down the plumbing from the lakes to the 3,000 cubic foot per second water fall, construct the artificial stream, eliminate flooding along the American Gulch and put a culvert bridge at McLane

A perfect win, win, win solution -- after five years of wandering in the wilderness. Then came the dirt piles.

The project required some delicately calculated grading to create the stream, control the potential floods and connect it all to a series of waterfalls dropping some 180 feet. Once Jackman agreed to the new plan, she had to spend an extra $150,000 on engineering to accommodate the waterfall and stream. She also needed some more dirt, which could be bought from the contractor doing the remodeling work at Julia Randal Elementary School.

So far so good.

Last week, the school contractor got ready to fire up the earth graders and called Jackman to find out where she wanted the dirt.

She checked with the town to make sure she had permission, only to learn the town wouldn't let her dump the dirt on her property until she was ready to start grading -- which she couldn't do because of the changes in the grading plan the town had requested.

But why? Asked Jackman.

Seems like some years ago some developer had dumped a bunch of dirt on his property, went belly up and walked away, leaving the piles blowing in the wind. So the town passed a dirt pile ordinance.

Jackman wheedled: After all, the dirt piles are on the portion of the 29-acre project where the grading plan wouldn't change. Don't matter, said town staff.

Only way she could dump the dirt was to put up a $10,000 bond.

She asked the bank to fund the refundable bond, but the bank got all nervous. Ten thousand for dirt piles? Must be something wrong, fretted the bank. They wouldn't give her the money, unless she paid a big fee.

So she came up with the $10,000 herself.

All this took about five days, which stalled the school contractor for lack of a place to put the dirt.

The situation would have gone on much longer if Evans hadn't gathered people from the relevant town departments in a small room and said no one could leave until Jackman had permission to move the dirt.

This is precisely the kind of stuff that gives government a bad name. And it's such a shame.

The dedicated professionals at Town Hall have a vital role to play in creating a community in which we all want to live. By and large, they act with professionalism, courtesy and vision.

But then along comes some reasonable rule that when unreasonably applied creates needless expense and frustration. Five days may not seem like a long time for a public official with an inbox stuffed with paper, but it's a heck of a long time when construction crews are sitting around with their arms folded.

And when you add up years of such incidents, you start to understand how Payson earned its reputation.

We hope the town staff will take to heart the view of the business community -- and find ways to change the dynamic that has created far too many such incidents.

Perhaps it requires action by town council, to give town staff more authority to apply common sense in administering those rules. Perhaps it merely requires a few more meetings in which Evans locks everyone in the room.

But as our momma once said: Don't let that pile of dirt be smarter than you.

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