We must pave this awful dirt road –— no matter the cost, say some of the people living along Cedar Lane.
We can’t possibly pay $6,000 to $12,000 to fix this awful dirt road, please, please, don’t do it, say other people living along that same street.
Last week, the Payson Town Council wound up in the middle of that increasingly bitter neighborhood fight about whether to establish an improvement district to pave the narrow, private road between Mud Springs and Sutton roads, just north of Phoenix Street.
The dispute pits folks living up the hill, including a town planning commissioner, and some people living along the road who say they’re just barely scraping by.
The two sides really agree on only one thing: The Town of Payson made everything much worse by lightly maintaining the road for years, slapping on a layer of chip seal, then abandoning the road in about 2001. Since then, erosion has gouged out foot-deep holes in the deteriorating chip chip-sealed surface.
One block of property owners wants to set up an improvement district to raise the $200,000 to pave the road. At the hearing, Town Manager LaRon Garrett said the cost would rise to $400,000 or so if the district also put in water lines and fire hydrants.
The effort to end 20 years of problems, complaints and conflicts landed before the Payson Town Council last Tuesday, with pleas from both sides, accusations of political favoritism and council frustration.
“I’m appalled something like this could happen,” said Penny Smith, who said she only learned of the hearing before the town council secondhand.
“I’m appalled you would assess 32 people on Cedar Lane $300,000 — we don’t even know what a redevelopment area entails. We were told if we didn’t pay this up front there would be a lien on our property.”
Sutton Street needs help, too
Vivian Mataliano, who lives on Love Springs, questioned boundaries that put the burden on 32 homeowners, but left out the even more deteriorated Sutton Street.
“I’m just shocked Sutton is not included — their road is worse and they’ll be using our road all the time. I’ve just been sick over this. The people who want this live up on the hill, but we’ll have to pay for it when our part of Cedar Lane is not so bad. We can’t afford it. This amount of money is absurd. Please don’t do this to me and my neighbors — we have medical bills, we’re losing our jobs — in this economy, please don’t do this to us.”
She suggested that Planning Commissioner Joel Mona had worked with Payson Mayor Kenny Evans to impose the improvement district on residents, since Mona is one of the largest landowners in the proposed improvement district.
“What makes this sound like corruption is that Joel is on the planning and zoning board and we are paving a road to his property. I don’t believe he has our best interests in mind.”
Mona said he’d never talked to the mayor about the district, would pay more than anyone else for the improvements and was pushing for the improvement district as the only viable solution to a serious, long-standing problem.
“It’s definitely not a perfect option,” said Mona in defending the attempt to establish the district. “I looked at that road as a problem needed to be solved. Maybe through this process, something better will come up. I understand the opposition, but I believe it’s in the best long-term interest of the town and the neighborhood.”
He warned the council not to add a water line and hydrants to the project.
“I believe a majority of the residents will support this, but adding something like a water line will kill it.”
Lew Levenson agreed, saying residents had been trying to fix the road the whole 11 years he has lived on Cedar Lane.
“We’re here to finally overcome a problem which the past 15 or 16 city councils have all ducked. This is the house I want to stay in until I get carried out feet first and this process will ensure everyone gets heard.”
Next step is to hire an attorney
The council’s approval last week was the first step in the long process required to set up an improvement district, with the power to tax the residents in the district to pay for the improvements. The next step requires the town to hire a lawyer to draw up the boundaries, establish the cost of the improvements and determine how much each property owner would have to pay.
The actual formation of the district would then be put to a vote of the property owners. If a majority of the property owners approved the formation of the district, those who voted against it would have to pay their assessment as well.
Council members told the angry protesters that the town hadn’t initiated the formation of the district and was just trying to make it possible for the people living along the privately owned street to solve the problem, through the use of the town’s ability to issue low-cost bonds and establish the district.
“This just lets (property owners) go out and see if you want it,” said Councilor Mike Vogel.
“We’ve worked on this thing for two years. I’ve looked at every option I could think of. This is just an opportunity so your neighbors can get together, hash it out, and come back to us.”
Councilor Su Connell said, “It’s crucial that people be informed. I’ve heard numbers all over the place — we owe it to people to hear all the voices.”
Councilor Ed Blair reacted to complaints from residents that they haven’t been kept informed on the options and costs by adding a condition to the council’s approval that the town staff should notify all the potentially affected homeowners of the next step in the process. “That’s not a big, onerous thing to do,” said Blair.
Mayor Evans took pains to ask Mona and Levenson whether they had ever privately discussed the formation of the district with him. Both said they had not.
Councilor Blair also insisted that Mona had done nothing in his capacity as a planning commissioner to lobby for the formation of the district.
“I would like to say, even though Joel is on the planning and zoning commission, that he has no influence beyond his vote on that.”
Town had maintained the road
The council passed quickly over the residents’ allegations that the town made the problem much worse by chip sealing the road in 2001, then cutting off all further maintenance.
The town for many years previously had maintained the road by sometimes using a grader to smooth out the bumps and fill in the ruts. The coat of gravel and tar in 2001 was intended to reduce dust.
However, when the then-town council voted to stop maintaining all privately owned roads in town, the problem got much worse. Erosion cut through the chip sealing in many places, which then concentrated the erosion in the gaps in the seal. As a result, the road developed much worse potholes and gouges than it would have if left unsealed.
“Without telling any of us, they chip sealed it,” said Smith.
“So now we have potholes a foot deep. In some areas, Sutton has deteriorated to one lane. My husband fills the holes himself now. Do I want a paved road? Sure. But no way will I stand to be assessed $6,000 to $12,000 to have what every other resident in this town already has.”
Levenson agreed that the town’s action in chip sealing the road then abandoning it have made the problem much worse.
He said he was initially relieved at the chip sealing, which reduced the billows of dust.
“We didn’t know how much that lack of dust was going to be costing us. Now people coming down that road like to see how much air they can get under them. That road right now is in a lot worse shape than it was 11 years ago.”
The council unanimously approved the first step in what promises to become a long and contentious process.