The growth control era in Payson ended Thursday night not with a bang, but a whimper.
Only about 20 people listened as the Payson Town Council voted unanimously to repeal the 250-units-per-year limit on new construction that once gave the town the toughest growth restrictions in Arizona.
Moreover, at that same meeting the council approved new rules for buildings taller that four stories and a rent-subsidized apartment building for seniors — the first major new development in two years.
Only one person objected to the repeal of growth controls in what proved a surprisingly quiet meeting.
John Roethlein said, “I don’t understand why we would choose this moment to repeal something. We should have a plan instead of removing something that might be hard to put back.”
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said the growth limits were “flawed” in legal terms and meaningless in practical terms, since as a result of the building collapse of the past three years some 800 annual permits had accumulated.
“Why have it on the books if it isn’t going to do anything?” asked Evans. “If we got into a place where growth exploded, it could be put back in place with a majority vote of the council. But this was a flawed ordinance.”
Evans said repealing the ordinance now with the housing market still moribund would minimize the impact.
“This is the right time to do it with the least disruption if people are concerned we’re throwing open the gate and saying ‘you all come.’”
The previous town council under the leadership of then-mayor Bob Edwards had imposed the growth limits just before the recession crashed the housing market amid concerns the town was running out of water.
But the town has issued fewer than 50 permits in the past two years, while the ordinance essentially carries forward any unused permits from the 250-unit annual limit.
Councilor John Wilson said he had pushed to put that carry-forward provision into the growth control ordinance four years ago in hopes it would render the permit limits meaningless.
“It is inefficient to try to regulate the economy with rules and ordinances,” said Wilson.
“My effort was to make this ordinance ineffective, which I think it is.”
The council had originally imposed the growth restrictions when studies showed that the town was using more than 90 percent of the natural recharge into its system of about 100 wells.
However, the subsequent trade for the Tower Well in Star Valley with a developer increased the town’s water supply and Blue Ridge will more than double the existing supply.