Church School Riles Neighbors

Payson council on a split vote upholds plan for Christian school on Mud Springs, softens requirement for block wall

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The Payson Town Council on a 6-1 vote not only rejected pleas to prevent Payson Community Christian Church from building a private school for 250 students on Mud Springs Road, it eased some restrictions imposed earlier by the planning commission.

Many neighbors signed petitions supporting the church’s plan and several showed up on at a recent council meeting to speak in favor of the plans.

However, other neighbors bitterly complained that the traffic and the noise of the children will ruin the peaceful neighborhood and become “the pestilence of Payson.”

The long hearing before the town council eventually focused mostly on whether to require an 8-foot-tall block wall around the school, with some neighbors insisting only such a wall would protect their peace and quiet and others suggesting the wall itself would ruin the neighborhood. The planning commission had approved the project and required the owners to put up whatever kind of fence, wall or screening the immediate neighbor wanted.

The council eventually voted to approve the project and require the owners to comply with the terms of the town’s fence ordinance when they build the facility.

As a result, the owner will consult with the neighbors, but remain largely free to put up some sort of “opaque” screening between the residential neighborhood and the school buildings.

“It means they can do whatever the hell they want, that’s what it means” said Phillip Anderson in disgust to several bewildered opponents after the council vote. “I’m going to have to take this to court. They just took away all our protections.”

The church back in 2003 got town approval to build a private school on a parcel of land off Mud Springs, across from the hospice and Frontier Elementary School. But this year, the church bought an adjacent parcel of land and so went back to the town to modify its plans.

The town staff supported the change in the plans, noting that the additional land will provide more open space, more parking and a larger buffer between the proposed school and the houses that surround it.

The staff report suggested the new plan would create an “open, park-like” setting, with far less impact on the neighborhood than the plan approved in 2003.

However, some of the neighbors had vehemently protested the updated plans for a school.

In a letter included in the 91-page background packet prepared for the council Anderson wrote “(Owners) Teresa Purtee and Keven Rush are obsessed with forcing themselves on a neighborhood that unanimously does not want them. If the heads of this PCCS were truly Christians, they would not force themselves on an area of town where they will make themselves a total public nuisance! We will have to constantly report them for noise violations, especially at night when their many evening functions are going on with loudspeakers. I need total peace and quiet for my research work.”

The background packet included perhaps a dozen letters in opposition and petitions with several hundred names in support. Only a handful of people spoke at the hearing before the council.

Anderson focused much of his long presentation before the council in opposing the idea of putting a playground and recreational field in the middle of a cluster of trees on the edge of the property adjacent to his house.

However, architect Bernie Lieder, who also heads the town’s design review board, said he should have used a different label on the map, since the owners intended to leave all the trees and protect that green belt buffer on the edge of the property, except for picnic tables, some parking and an area where students could hang out or do science and ecology projects.

Overall, neighbors offered a mix of support and concern.

John Corazza, who had earlier written letters in strong opposition, “it’s their property and their students, we don’t see any problem. We live a block from Frontier Elementary School and they’re great neighbors. We’d like to see them spend their money on students and not on building a fence. They need to move to a better site,” he concluded, echoing many of the strong suggestions made in the background material.

Anderson at the meeting said the neighbors would be “impacted by kids yelling and screaming. I’m a scientist, we’re trying to solve problems. I can’t concentrate with kids yelling and screaming.”

Most of the council discussion focused on the condition imposed by the planning commission concerning the barrier around the property. The planning commission had suggested the builders work out some combination of block wall, wood fencing and landscape buffering satisfactory to each neighbor.

Anderson had appealed that decision, hoping to convince the council to order the owners to create a green belt buffer plus an 8-foot block wall all around the property.

Several other property owners who spoke opposed such a block wall, saying it would make the school look like a prison or a reformatory, while cutting off their view of the trees.

Councilor Mike Vogel noted, “I’m not a fan of block walls and schools. If you want to get a kid hurt, just give him something to fall off of and tell him not to climb it.”

Councilor Richard Croy said the town’s ordinance calls for an “opaque screening” structure between residential and commercial buildings, not a block wall. “I don’t see the need for any fence,” he said, “except maybe a cyclone fence.”

Acting Community Development Director Ray Erlandsen said a chain link fence isn’t “opaque,” as required by the ordinance.

Councilor Ed Blair observed “I very much prefer the concrete block. I’m afraid the landscape thing is not going to grow fast enough.”

The architect presented the results of a survey of adjacent homeowners, which found only 30 percent of the property owners wanted a block wall. About 20 percent wanted a wood fence, 20 percent wanted just a landscape buffer, 14 percent wanted to leave the existing trees and fencing and 15 percent didn’t reply.

“This would be the only school in Payson with a masonry wall,” he concluded.

Vogel said that to prepare for the meeting, he’d gone down to Rumsey Park to figure out whether the sound of the kids playing bothered the neighbors.

“Yeah, kids yell and have a good time and I personally like to hear that. I went down there and people were sitting on their patios watching the kids play.”

Erlandsen said the code requires “an 8-foot wall of some kind, the council cannot change the code.”

Assistant Town Attorney Tim Wright then hastened to add, “You can change the code —just not tonight.”

Croy said the planning commission by requiring a block walk had actually imposed a more stringent requirement than was included in the town’s code.

Just to make the decision tougher, Don Linsley, a neighbor, then stood up to say, “I’m one of the most impacted ones — I don’t have a fence at this time and I have not objected to the school. But I would have a very big objection to an 8-foot block wall. If there was a fence with landscaping, I’d have no objection.”

Anderson then interjected, “But those who want a block wall should have it.”

Councilor John Wilson then made a motion to accept the planning commission’s recommendations, with the exception of the requirement for a block wall.

So will the homeowners who want a block wall get it? asked Blair who voted no.

“We would look to the code and say, ‘what’s the code say.’ Right now, the code says they need an 8-foot opaque wall,” said Erlandsen.

“Does that require an 8-foot block wall?” asked Anderson.

“One of the things that would comply would be an 8-foot block wall,” said Wilson.

“That would be one of the options,” said Wright. “They would have to comply with the code. Neighbors could not waive the requirements of the code.”

“Prudence suggests they work with the neighbors,” said Mayor Kenny Evans.

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