Payson Oks First Big Project In Two Years

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Without so much as a drum roll, Payson has approved a zone change to allow its first major new construction project in some two years.

Not a single neighbor objected and not a single council member commented as the council last week unanimously approved a $6-million, 20-unit apartment complex, with federally subsidized rates for seniors.

The Foundation for Senior Living will build the apartment complex next to the existing Pineview Manor off Clark Drive near Bonita near the Safeway shopping plaza.

The project will also include a million-dollar renovation of the existing, adjacent 27-year-old apartment block.

Owen Long, of Tempe, said he hoped to start construction on the project as soon as possible.

If so, that would mark the first big new project in town in nearly two years. Two other major projects approved by the council in the past two years both faltered as a result of the housing downturn, including a luxury condominium project off Main Street and the controversial “orange tape” project, famous for the construction tape the developer left draped around the property edge.

The last time the Foundation for Senior Living project went before the council, neighbors on the back side of the project showed up to protest.

Several people living on Goodnow Road urged the council to reject the requested zone change for fear the project would put more cars on their small, narrow, poorly drained street.

However, the developer’s promise to provide only emergency access through a locked gate onto Goodnow apparently mollified the neighbors, who didn’t show up to repeat their complaints on Thursday.

Long told the council that the development will comply with the town’s requirement that he grade the property and put in a retention basin to capture at least 25 percent of the drainage that flows onto the property from adjoining land.

As a result, the project will actually reduce the amount of water flowing onto Goodnow and will put new traffic on the street only during emergencies.

He noted that all the property owners in the area had been coping with increased runoff ever since the Safeway market finished its parking lot and other improvements.

“It’s only going to get better,” said Long of the drainage problems in the area.

The existing set of 22 apartments was funded through a federal housing grant, and has a waiting list. The apartments rent at about $250 per month to seniors with an income of less than about $16,500 who pay a maximum of 30 percent of their income for rent.

The additional 20 apartments will also feature partially subsidized rents through a tax credit system intended to stimulate the construction of housing for low-income seniors.

Long said residents making below about 60 percent of the average income in the region can apply for the apartments, with rents that will probably range from $400 to $600 monthly.

Recent housing surveys suggest Payson suffers from a critical shortage of affordable housing. The average Payson resident cannot afford the average Payson house, according to federal formulas.

The median annual income in Gila County is about $30,000 for a one-person household or about $43,000 for a four-person household, according to report by a Payson Housing Task Force.

Federal formulas suggest an “affordable” house payment should not exceed 30 percent of a person’s income.

That figure suggests the average person shouldn’t have to pay more than $748 to $1,068 a month for housing.

However, it would cost about $2,550 a month to buy the average Payson home, based on 2006 figures. A decline in home prices in the past two years may have altered those estimates somewhat.

The Foundation for Senior Living project will give Payson about five subsidized housing projects for seniors.

However, the town still has a critical shortage of affordable housing for working families, according to the Housing Task Force Report.

Still, the approval of the $6-million project could provide the first flush of new jobs in the construction sector that used to provide a mainstay for the Rim Country’s economy.

Four years ago, Payson was issuing an average of 250 permits annually for new homes. But in the past two years, the total has remained less than 20 annually — with most of the permits going to single-home construction on single lots.

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