The council enjoyed one of those “only in Payson” moments last week, when angry neighbors crowded town hall to complain that turning seven two-acre lots into 14 one-acre lots would ruin the peaceful, rural nature of the neighborhood.
The protests centered on the long-suffering efforts to rezone a chunk of heavily forested land at 1601 E. Thunderwood Lane, off Tyler Parkway. Barbara Underwood, who serves on the Payson school board, won agreement to the rezoning in 2004 — only to have the town cancel its approval based on fears Payson would run out of water.
She returned to the town this year, seeking to get a new approval.
And that upset the neighbors.
Paula Bently urged the town council to reject the requested rezoning and cited in support, language in the town’s general plan saying the council should “aggressively” protect the town’s “rural character.”
She said the request would double the existing density and thereby double the “burden on the environment.”
She described a grim future in which a drive through a neighborhood of peaceful two-acre lots would come finally to this 15-acre parcel with “14 homes huddled together. And you wonder, where were the city planners when this city block was interjected” into a rural neighborhood?
The room burst into applause as she finished her complaint.
Developer Ray Jones, who helped put together the land exchange that included most of the area through which Tyler Parkway now runs, said none of the landowners ever intended to leave the zoning restricted to two-acre lots.
“What they’re asking for now is not only equitable — if it was me, I’d be going for a lot more density, and you’d really be upset with that,” said Jones.
Marty Lamb said he represented homeowners in the area uniformly opposed to the rezoning. The issue provoked “a lot of emotion on both sides. Payson is a great place to live. We enjoy open and airy lots. People who bought here had a reasonable expectation the zoning would not change.”
He noted that currently the town had only 21 properties larger than two-acres for sale, so he said the large lots would be more in demand than if the council approved the lot splits.
However, appraiser Mike Foil, who lives nearby, reminded the council of the results of a recently completed housing study — showing the town urgently needs more affordable homes than the average Payson worker can actually afford. The consultants reported that accepting higher density remains the key to developing more affordable housing.
“Right now is not a good snapshot of demand,” said Foil of the claim that two-acre lots would sell better than one-acre lots. “There’s almost no demand for anything right now and no one is buying vacant land.”
He said as the economy picks up the lower-cost lower-cost lots and homes will start selling the soonest. Even one-acre lots will likely prove hard to sell for several years to come.
Moreover, he said, “I don’t think anyone’s way of life is going to be destroyed by one-acre lots next door. We’re talking about seven lots here — it’s just not a big deal. I’m sure this would be a very nice addition to the neighborhood.”
Harold Corbin said he talked to 25 neighbors about the rezoning request back in 2004 and 24 of them signed petitions in opposition. The only neighbor who didn’t sign was a builder.
Property owner Barbara Underwood said they’d held the property since 1992 and lived in the neighborhood. She had already developed other lots in the area and had been “gracious enough” to help her neighbors hook up to the sewer system, thereby saving them thousands of dollars on alternative septic systems.
“We could have put mobile homes out there, but we wanted to preserve the subdivision.”
She said tasteful development on one-acre lots would not hurt the neighborhood at all, especially since the one-acre lots would guarantee the homes would sell for more than the average Payson home. “We’re not kidding anybody that this is going to be an ‘affordable’ subdivision,” said Underwood.
Mel Thorton, who lives nearby, wasn’t mollified. “The large majority of homeowners are opposed to this rezoning.” He, too, quoted the town’s general plan saying the town would preserve the rural character and remain dedicated to making sure “the quality of life can be enjoyed by future generations.”
He said the rezoning would have a “profound effect on the rural quality of this subdivision.”
He said Underwood’s property “has a tremendous number of ponderosa pines,” but many would be cut to fit 14 houses on the 15 acres.
The council listened silently to the take-no-prisoners debate, but made no comment. The meeting constituted only the first hearing before the council on the zone change, with a second reading of the ordinance scheduled for July.
The planning commission had previously recommended approval of the zone change on a split vote.