Humane Society Seeks Details On Land Swap

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Payson Mayor Kenny Evans met with the board of the Payson Humane Society this week to answer a host of questions about possibly moving a proposed $3.6-million animal shelter from a two-acre parcel off McLane Road to a five-acre piece of town-owned land next to the Payson Event Center.

The wide-ranging discussions included both a low-cost, long-term lease and a land swap, but left Humane Society officials seeking answers to a long list of questions.

Evans said the town will rush to get answers to those questions by next week -- in hopes of signing a a lease or land trade agreement within weeks or months.

"We will make a decision about going forward in a matter of days -- a handful of days," said Evans.

Humane Society Board President Barbara Brenke said so far the board has more questions than answers. "We still don't have the information that we need to make any kind of decision at this time. We are still planning to go forward on the site we own."

The Humane Society has already raised $600,000 of the $3.6 million it needs for a new facility on the existing site. This week, the group sent out about 15,000 letters seeking donations for the new facility -- and received about $1,000 in donations the day the appeal hit the mailboxes, said one Humane Society official.

The group struggled for years to win approval of plans to build a new, heavily soundproofed animal shelter just off Main Street on South McLane Road.

The facility would include a low-cost spay and neuter clinic, indoor, soundproofed kennels, areas with separate ventilation for sick animals, outdoor exercise areas and a place nearby to operate the recycling can crusher the group uses to raise money.

The council's approval of a conditional use permit for the project was appealed by the developer of a proposed luxury condo project with an artificial stream running along American Gulch. That stream would cool, aerate and filter the water of the Green Valley Park lakes. The council last week rejected that appeal and gave the Humane Society the go-ahead. However, Evans also surprised almost everyone by suggesting the shelter move to a chunk of forested land next to the rodeo grounds on which a developer had planned a convention hotel.

Evans said several factors triggered the last-minute offer.

He said the once-courted developer of the convention hotel originally planned for that 11-acre site had told the town that his financing had fallen apart and he had no prospects for raising the money to build the hotel "in the foreseeable future."

Moreover, another developer is considering building a much larger convention hotel elsewhere in town, on land not owned by the town.

In addition, at last week's council meeting the town finally settled a long-deferred flood control project, which will affect the site proposed for the animal shelter.

The town has planned for years to build with developer contributions a retention basin to capture storm waters heading down a natural gulch. That gulch would lie between the shelter and the rodeo grounds, providing a natural buffer, said Evans. The just-concluded agreement to provide the retention basin would provide dirt needed to level the site of the proposed animal shelter while also helping provide access to the proposed shelter site off McLane.

Evans suggested that the Humane Society could sell the land it now owns for perhaps $500,000, to add to the building fund -- if the board wanted to lease the land rather than own it. Otherwise, the group could simply swap land with the town.

Evans said the town could finance the land swap with sales taxes available through the redevelopment district. The strategically located two-acre parcel could be used for parks and parking, in conjunction with a proposed, linear park with hiking and riding trails running along the proposed artificial stream in American Gulch.

In the meantime, the animal shelter could wind up with plenty of room to grow and a location further away from neighbors likely to complain, said Evans.

However, several Humane Society board members said that they had learned that a developer plans to build a housing development very close to the proposed new site.

Evans said that he believes all the questions raised by the Humane Society could be addressed in the next week, providing a "win/win" solution that would benefit both the animal shelter and plans for the revitalization of Main Street.

He noted that the town could even factor in the value of the grading and site preparation plans the Humane Society has already paid for in determining the value of the parcel for trade or sale.

He said even the parcel next to the Event Center might not be the best possible place for the animal shelter, but it would be a big improvement over a downtown location. "The Humane Society needs to do something now -- and we have a responsibility to the citizens of Northern Gila County to have a facility to take care of stray animals."

But Humane Society officials remained noncommittal, although willing to explore the options.

"There are just a lot of questions that need to be answered," said Brenke. "We have to be good stewards of the amount of money people have donated to keep the Payson Humane Society operating. So it behooves us to weigh carefully any opportunity that comes up."

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