Council Takes On Growth Limit Repeals

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The Payson Town Council may repeal the town’s growth limits on Thursday in the course of a crowded agenda that packs about a year’s worth of controversy into one long night.

The meeting features three measures that could have a major impact on future growth, including the outright repeal of the annual limit on building permits, provisions for seven-story buildings in certain areas and a change in a tough drainage ordinance that makes some areas of town all but unbuildable.

As if that’s not enough, the council will also vote on whether to raise the bed tax, impose a tax on rental cars, allow electric fences, and charge intoxicated drivers the cost of sending fire trucks to the accidents they cause. The council may also approve a

rezoning to allow a 15-acre apartment complex for low-income seniors, despite the objections of some neighbors.

The meeting will start at 5:30 Thursday in the council chambers.

Repealing the town’s growth limits and the raising the town’s height limit from about three stories to seven stories could draw substantial public interest.

The repeal of the 250-unit-per-year growth limits will have little immediate impact, but signal a fundamental change in the town’s approach to growth. The minimal immediate impact stems from both the continued death of the housing market and the accumulation of unused permits from the past three years. Because of the backlog of unused permits, builders could take out about 800 permits this year without running afoul of the existing limits.

The town no longer needs the annual growth limits because of the contract to bring to Payson water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir, according to a draft of the resolution that would repeal Ordinance 695.

The original move to impose growth controls spearheaded by then-mayor Bob Edwards stemmed from plunging well levels and fears Payson would run out of groundwater. The council imposed both the growth limits and a $7,500 per-unit charge to raise money to build the $30 million pipeline. The Blue Ridge pipeline will carry 3,000 acre-feet annually for Payson, more than doubling the town’s water supply.

The proposed building height ordinance also signals a fundamental shift in the council’s attitude toward future development. The change would allow developers to apply for a zone change and a conditional use permit in certain commercial and industrial zones to build as high as 75 feet — more than twice the current maximum.

The ordinance spells out a list of restrictions even in the appropriate zones, including the impact on the views of the neighbors, open space, shadows cast by the building and other factors.

The ordinance would allow the planning commission to approve four- and five-story buildings, but an increase all the way to six or seven stories would require two rounds of council and planning commission approvals of both a zone change and a conditional use permit.

Council members have said the new height limit would make it possible for the town to attract key developments, like a convention hotel, a college campus with dorms and perhaps apartments or industrial and commercial developments in areas like tracts of vacant land near the airport and near the Payson Event Center.

Critics worried six- and seven-story buildings would overshadow existing areas and change the laid back, small-town, forest community feel of the town.

The third major change could actually have more impact on future growth patterns than any of the other proposals.

The shift would essentially roll back one of the state’s toughest drainage ordinances.

The existing ordinance requires new developments to not only keep all their drainage on site, but to build retention basins and other features big enough to accommodate 25 percent of the water that flows onto the property from neighboring properties.

The existing ordinance seeks to solve pervasive, local flooding problems in many areas of town, where new developments approved under the old code increased the runoff and flooding for the neighbors.

The town doesn’t have a well-developed, overall drainage system, so most areas lack a system of washes, storm drains and large retention basins that would allow water to flow safely off one property and end up in a centralized system.

The natural drainage problems often grow much worse when parking lots and rooftops prevent rainwater from soaking into the ground, town officials said.

So the existing ordinance requires developers to essentially create a network of small retention basins all over town, which would keep runoff from building up into mini-floods as it rolls downhill.

However, the town has repeatedly granted exceptions to the current rule for individual projects, after builders complained the code makes it impossible to build on their property.

The owners of hillside lots face an especially serious problem, since they would have to devote the bulk of their lot to retention basins — and still not be able to capture 25 percent of the water flowing down the hill from other lots.

The proposed change in the ordinance would allow builders on steeper lots to retain between 75 and 100 percent of the runoff in a model 100-year storm, rather than the current 125 percent, with a waiver from the planning commission and town council. Smaller lots could be exempted from the requirement.

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