Town Council Rejects Zoning Change Request

Zone change blocked by loophole, campaign promise, two councilors

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A loophole and a three-year-old campaign promise won the day for neighbors opposed to a plan to allow 14 instead of seven homes in a forested area off Tyler Parkway.

Several neighbors opposed Barbara Underwood’s request to change the zoning on her 15-acre parcel from two-acre lots to one-acre lots. They argued the approval of 14 one-acre lots in an area surrounded by two-acre potential horse properties would ruin the quiet, rural character of the neighborhood.

“This rezoning fails to honor the rural character of the neighborhood and fails to honor the expectations of the neighbors,” said Paula Bentley.

Other neighbors living in a nearby neighborhood with one-acre lots the Underwoods had previously developed showed up to support her, saying one-acre lots would still produce a quiet, rural neighborhood where few people would even see their neighbor’s rooftop.

Richard Ormand said “I’m confused why there’s such opposition to an additional seven lots when the Underwoods have been such good stewards of the land,” for instance changing the zoning that would have allowed 44 mobile homes to a subdivision with 27 one-acre lots with site built homes.

Underwood ultimately won the support of five of the seven council members, but still lost her case.

Underwood faced an unusual problem because the large lots made it possible for the protest of a single neighbor with a long, shared border to trigger a requirement in both town law and state ordinance that required a three-quarters vote of the council for the zone change. This meant she had to win the votes of six of the seven council members.

Councilman Ed Blair voted against the change, arguing he was obligated to represent the views of the 60 out of 92 property owners in the area who had signed petitions objecting to the rezoning.

“I speak for the sizeable majority who are opposed,” he said. He said the change would violate a line in the general plan requiring the council to “aggressively” protect the rural character of the community.

Opponents won their second vote from Councilman Mike Vogel, who lives in a house with a 2.5-acre lot about a half mile from Underwood’s property.

Back in 2004, the then town council approved the rezoning request, only to revoke the approval a month later out of concerns the town would not have enough water. Underwood agreed to not fight the reversal when the town promised she could seek a fresh approval when Payson had an assured water supply.

Vogel said as many as 80 people had talked to him in opposition to the zone change before his election three years ago and since. He promised them he would oppose it. Vogel did not speak during the meeting, but later commented, “I have said for the last three years that I would vote against it and I keep my promises.”

He said that he talked to the head of the planning department before he bought his own large parcel in the area and was assured the area would always remain in two-acre parcels. Therefore, he said, existing homeowners had a right to expect the zoning would remain the same.

Other council members disagreed with Blair and Vogel.

Councilor Richard Croy said he’d walked the entire property and was convinced the people living on the two-acre parcels would not even see the roofs of the $400,000 homes on the one-acre parcels. “I doubt the one-acre people want to see your roofs any more than you want to see theirs. I don’t know how anybody can feel a one-acre property will ruin the neighborhood.”

He said the town needed to increase densities to make housing more affordable and infrastructure less expensive and that he had vowed to “vote for the betterment of the entire community and not narrow it down to a single neighborhood.”

Councilor Su Connell said the Underwood family had made great contributions to the community and proposed a “smart growth project that still protects the neighborhood’s charm.”

She said the project would provide some construction work for a depressed local industry. The construction workers “want to be part of this community and stay in the community, just like you people. We need this.”

Mayor Kenny Evans also strongly supported the project, saying that the town could not afford to provide police, fire, water, sewer and other services without increasing densities all over town. He said it cost almost as much to provide infrastructure for one home on a two-acre lot as for four homes on half acre lots —but that single home would provide far less tax support and economic activity.

“I take exception to the comments made that the only reason for this rezoning is economic,” said Evans. “There are other environmental and ecological issues. If we continue to expend such resources on very large footprint homes, we are going to pay the price. The size of a car doesn’t determine the value — neither does the size of the lot determine the character of the neighborhood.”

Neighbors made pleas for the council to reject the zone change.

Mill Thorton read a letter written by a couple too ill to attend the meeting pleading with the council to “protect this area before it is ruined.” Thorton added, “One of them will not be on this earth much longer, I would hope you would see compassion in that and think of those type of people.”

Marty Lamb said people in the neighborhood all believed the area would remain in two-acre lots forever. “This is the biggest investment they have made — there are abundant other (one-acre) lots undeveloped.”

Underwood herself pleaded with the council to take into account a previous council’s initial approval of the zone change and her cooperation in not fighting the unprecedented decision to revoke the approval until the town could develop a more secure water supply. She also vowed to make a contribution to develop a bike and hiking trail along Tyler Parkway near the property.

“I’m sad it has brought a lot of anger. Developing this property now would be a win, win... There’s been so much fragmented and fabricated information. They give you all this information, but they’re really just trying to jumble up what the facts are.” She said she actually had “overwhelming” support for people within 300 feet of the property line, with the exception of the one landowner who had filed the objection that triggered the need for a supermajority vote. “I just hope that you don’t vote on this based on mob rule.”

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