High Rise Debate Asks What Should Payson Become

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What should Payson become?

Here’s one of our favorite clichés: That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.

So here’s hoping that with Rim Country employment inching upwards we’ve survived the worst of the great recession.

Maybe we’ve even learned something useful from the trauma of our passage.

If so, we ought to see the hard-won wisdom reflected in the upcoming town debate about whether seven-story buildings loom in Payson’s future.

The town council smashed down a political hot button a couple of weeks ago when it asked the planning staff to look into boosting the maximum height limit from 45 feet to 75 feet.

This week, both the planning commission and the design review board raised a valuable flurry of questions about the proposal.

Those concerns posed the question: Who should we become?

Darn good question.

For a long time, Payson was a blue collar forest town, dependent on the saw mill, cattle ranching and a dollup of tourists. Good town, good heart — making do and riding the fence line on the windy outskirts of prosperity.

But the mill shut down, ranch families got blown away like drifts of tumbleweed and the town’s economy changed.

We became dependent on the buying power of retirees and the spending habits of tourists.

The influx of retirees seeking natural beauty and a quiet life changed the political dynamics — with concerns about controlling growth, limited traffic and upgrading the town’s appearance trumping worries about jobs and affordable housing for the working folks in town.

Then along came the recession, which shut down growth, shuttered a heart-breaking cross-section of businesses and forced us all to rethink the assumption that builders would plunk down money no matter how many conditions we imposed.

All of which brings us back to the question of allowing seven story buildings in town.

Like the council, the planning commission and the design review board, we’re for it, except when we’re against it.

So we applaud the council for putting the question on the agenda — just as we applaud questions raised by the thoughtful and committed citizen advisory groups.

The council hopes that boosting height limits will yield more jobs, more sales and more affordable housing.

Before the construction collapse, several developers wanted to build resort hotels or condominium and apartment complexes. However, the existing, three-story height limit spoiled the economics of the projects.

But now that we’ve become so economically dependent on tourism, we urgently need convention-capable resort hotels.

Moreover, we can only remain a vibrant, balanced, diverse community if we provide jobs and housing for working people — which means more apartments, condos and other homes people can afford.

That said, we also must not sacrifice the low-key, rural, forested lifestyle that the town offers to long-timers and new-comers alike.

So we agree with the skeptics on the citizen boards who said the seven-story zoning must not overshadow existing neighborhoods.

Fortunately, the discussion so far suggests the council fully understands the trade-offs and that the advisory panels and town staff will move carefully and wisely.

Thank goodness. Perhaps that means we’ve not only survived the recession, but learned a valuable lesson about how Payson can remain a healthy, economically balanced community: Not dead, but stronger.

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