Design Review Process Heads Town Agenda

New building restrictions and $1.2 million Bonita Street


The Payson council will end the August lull Thursday with the policy equivalent of a monsoon thunderstorm -- with design standards, sharpened teeth for code enforcement and a debate about whether to put the $1.2 million rebuild of Bonita Street on hold.

After a light meeting schedule in August, the town council will take up a crowded agenda on Thursday, starting with renewed discussion of 30 pages' worth of design review requirements to give commercial and apartment projects a consistent "mountain town" feel when it comes to looks and landscaping.

The town's Design Review Board spent more than a year drafting standards, which would ban tile roofs and metal buildings, require natural materials and subdued earth tones, protect pines and embrace native plants whenever possible. The standards would not apply to single family homes.

The design standards provoked some debate at the first reading of the ordinance, partly because some council members said they didn't have time to study them carefully. Council members also expressed concern about creating additional hurdles for developers, since the ordinance would require most projects to get the approval of the citizen members of the Design Review Board on many key details before proceeding to the planning commission and then the town council.

The partially revised design standards would consider some of those objections and impose various time restrictions on the Design Review Board and the town staff to keep projects moving along, despite the added layer of review.

In addition, the state budget crisis is forcing the council to make some potentially painful choices when it comes to the plan to rebuild a deteriorating Bonita Street.

The town had planned to move forward this year with a $1.2 million project to rebuild Bonita Street while adding a bike path and sidewalks.

The town had already gotten funding approval for the project from the gas-tax-supported state HURF Exchange Fund. The town had planned to pay for that project with a state loan, which it would repay with grant funds in 2011 and 2012. However, the state legislature essentially put the grants and loans on hold, to scoop up highway funds in the current year to offset a huge projected budget deficit.

As a result, state officials said they could not guarantee the town could actually get the grants it will need to repay the $1.2 million loan.

If the town goes forward with the improvements and the state never actually provides the promised grant money, Payson would have to make a $268,000 payment in 2011 and a $500,000 payment in 2012, according to a memo to the council by Town Engineer LaRon Garrett.

The council has three options: it could go ahead with the project and risk having to come up with the money later; or put the project off for a year, in hopes the state replaces the money taken from the highway fund this year; or put the project on hold indefinitely --which could mean reapplying for the grant funds.

Payson virtually eliminated its capital improvements budget for the current fiscal year to make up a sharp slowdown in incoming tax revenue, especially sales tax. Spending in the just completed fiscal year consumed the town's entire reserve fund -- prompting the cancellation of a host of street and drainage projects.

Garrett warned the councilors the town should probably go ahead and buy up the private property needed to eventually widen the street, no matter what decision they make about the scheduling for the project in the short term.

As if that's not enough for one agenda, the council will also have the second reading for a new ordinance that would significantly toughen the enforcement of the town's building codes.

Right now, anyone who violates town codes relating to things like signs and landscaping and painting of buildings essentially gets a 10-day warning to fix the problem, followed by a possible civil citation. Under the revisions, town code enforcement officials could issue a citation on the spot. If someone violated the same ordinance twice in two years, town officials could issue a criminal citation.

On the first reading, the proposed ordinance triggered some debate about whether people violating things like sign ordinances should face criminal charges -- even for repeated offenses.

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