Zoning For Land Near Airport Goes Before Payson Council

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The momentous rezoning of 222 acres around the airport to allow the biggest block of apartment and residential zoning in town has cleared the planning commission and comes before the Payson Town Council on Thursday.

The remnants of a once much larger land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service, the big expanse of land atop the plateau overlooking town, the development of the land now thickset with brush, pinions and junipers has acquired fresh significance in the face of the town’s tax and job swoon during the recession.

Town officials have made attracting light industry and diversifying the town’s housing stock a top priority, in hopes of smoothing out the boom-bust cycles of a regional economy overwhelmingly dependent on tourism and home building.

The 222-acre block of land will include 78 acres of “employment” or light industrial zoning, 15 acres of multi-family zoning for apartments and condos and 104 acres of low- and medium-density zoning — including strips of one-house-per-acre zoning to buffer existing neighborhoods.

The council decided to allocate much of the open space in the original proposal to provide a buffer between existing neighorhoods and any new business or industrial development, at the expense of earmarking land for parks and recreational amenities.

Most of the public complaints lodged when the council last year approved the general plan designations for the 222 acres centered on the proposal to extend Sherwood Drive up the hill to Airport Road. That extension, long shown on the towns transportation plan, would provide access to the area without requiring the long drive down to Vista Drive on the west or McLane and the Highway on the east.

The more detailed zone change had made it back to the town council several weeks ago, but was then sent back to the planning commission when the landowners decided to use conventional zoning designations rather than the more general planned unit development overlay.

Now, after another round trip to the planning commission, the rezoning has hit the council agenda once again.

The planning commission imposed a number of conditions to placate some of the angry residents living along Sherwood Drive, fearful that the extension of their quiet cul de sac up the hill would ruin their neighborhood by dramatically increasing traffic in the neighorhood.

The conditions imposed to protect Sherwood Drive include:

• The developer will monitor traffic on Sherwood Drive for a year after it’s extended and will install traffic calming measures like speed bumps, striping and traffic circles if needed to slow and control traffic.

• Sherwood Drive will remain barricaded at the west end of Woodhill until construction on the road is completed west of Woodhill.

• The 36-foot-wide street will narrow to 24 feet in the extended stretch between Block 14 and Airport Road.

The conditions imposed by the planning commission include a variety of extra requirements the eventual developers of the property must meet.

Most of the land owners who have struggled through the decades-long land swap process now hope to sell of the land to the eventual developers, but the zoning and attached conditions will apply to that ultimate developer, unless waived on a case by case basis by the council at the time of development.

The conditions would also require all lots to be sold with an airport easement, effectively blocking the ability of the ultimate homeowners to complain about airport noise or operations. Some critics have questioned approving so much residential development under the airport flight paths.

The conditions also require the ultimate developer to abide by the town’s tough drainage code, which requires developers to build retention basis to hold on site not only all the rainwater that falls on the property, but perhaps a quarter of the water that flows onto the lot from adjacent properties during floods.

As a result, the development plan will have to include a system of big, sunken detention basins to catch floodwater and let it sink into the ground. That could pose some formidable grading and design problems for lots on steep slopes – like the hillside lots that will line the extended Sherwood Drive.

The conditions will require the landowners to come up with millions of dollars to install streets, sewers and water mains up front, before any portion of the land exchange block is developed. The landowners plan to set up an improvement district to issue bonds to pay for the upfront improvements.

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