Itty Bitty Lots: No Way

Payson council won’t study affordable housing idea

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Richard Croy

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Councilor Mike Vogel

Little tiny lots in Payson — just to supply affordable housing?

Forget about it. Don’t even study it. That’s the conclusion the Payson Town Council came to at its last meeting on a rare 3-3 split vote.

Councilman Richard Croy had asked the town to consider allowing 3,000 and 4,000 square-foot lots in certain areas of town in an attempt to provide lots on which developers might someday build homes a person earning the average Payson income could afford.

A recent study of the town’s housing stock found that the average working person in Payson can’t afford the average home. In fact, Payson has a critical shortage of homes or even apartments that middle-class professionals like teachers and police officers can afford.

“I’d like to at least look at the options,” said Croy, who ran a business building federally subsidized housing before his election to the council.

But Councilor Mike Vogel objected immediately.

“This is just eve top to eve top: That’s not in the scope of Payson. If you put any kind of structure on a 4,000 square-foot lot, you’ve used up the whole lot.”

Councilor Michael Hughes agreed, recalling the bitter complaints of neighbors in a recent hearing when the council narrowly rejected a request to transform seven, two-acre lots into 15 one-acre lots off Tyler Parkway.

“Every time we go through a rezoning, you get protests. We have a hard enough time turning two acres into one acre — never mind going down to 4,000 square-foot lots.”

The town’s housing study found that the average home in Payson costs more than $200,000 — well beyond the reach of the average working person in town. Moreover, the town suffers from a severe shortage of affordable apartments.

The slump in housing prices has reduced the value of the average Payson home by 20 or 30 percent in the past year and the prices of homes actually selling have dropped much more than that in most areas.

Moreover, the number of homes for rent has reportedly risen. However, even those unprecedented drops in value have not made the existing homes “affordable” for the average worker.

Councilor Ed Blair said Croy’s idea was worth investigating, given the critical shortage of work-force housing.

“I’m in favor of looking at it because of the possibility of lowering the cost of housing,” said Blair. “But I kind of agree with Mike (Vogel) … it reminds me of that song from the ’60s — rows and rows of ticky tacky houses.”

Croy hung on, even as he felt the tide of the debate dragging him under. “I don’t think would be wall to wall density,” he said, suggesting the zoning could result in small, two-story units with the garage on the ground floor and patio-sized lots, perhaps that would sell for $100,000 or so.

Mayor Kenny Evans did some quick calculations and said the lots could end up with mere 10-foot setbacks on each side. “is that even doable?” he asked.

However, town staffers assured the council that cities like Phoenix have zoning designations with such small lots.

Still, Vogel said studying a zoning category that included such small lots was a waste of time, since residents would never accept the change. “Affordable housing doesn’t mean that everyone is going to own a house,” he added.

The council then rejected Croy’s proposal by a 3 to 3 vote, with Vogel, Hughes and Evans voting to kill the idea and Croy, Blair and Councilor John Wilson supporting further study. Councilor Su Connell wasn’t at the meeting to break the tie.

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