Disgruntled homeowners extracted a final flurry of concessions last week, before the Payson council voted its tentative approval of a bid to rezone 222 acres near the Payson Airport.
The tract of land exchanged with the Forest Service after an epic 16-year struggle holds the key to the town’s economic future officials say, since it includes one of the few places left to build either apartments or job-producing light industry.
The hour-long first reading of the ordinance that will change the zoning to allow for 73 acres of industrial land, 15 acres of apartment buildings and about 133 acres of single family zoning focused mostly on the impact the proposed extension of Sherwood Drive and Wagon Trail will have on existing neighborhoods.
“This is wrong in so many ways,” said Charlotte Casey.
“Like a lot of people, we moved here because it was so nice and quiet. Who are the main investors in our town? The homeowners. But this is stupid. Hundreds of people will have the value of their homes drop. We’re going to lose this,” she said with an expansive, arms-spread gesture.
“It’s the quality of life: No air pollution, no noise pollution, no trash pollution.”
Other homeowners said they would prefer that the developer not extend Sherwood Drive to Airport Road, which will provide a way to get in and out of an area atop the mesa, which will ultimately have more than 1,000 new residents. Neighborhood opponents said they would be happy if the council at least design the road so drivers wouldn’t use it as a quick way to get down into town.
“We’re not against this development,” said Don Kealey, “however, we have grave concerns about Sherwood Drive.”
Jere Jarrell said “if we had the best of everything, we’d say we don’t want you to extend Sherwood.” He added the town’s planning staff and the landowner’s concessions had eased neighborhood opposition.
“When we started this process, we were really scared.”
The council approved the first reading of the zone change ordinance, but directed the town staff to incorporate most of the homeowners’ suggestions to limit traffic on Sherwood Drive, which will not only connect to Airport Road in the middle of a long-stretch, but will provide access to a string of one-acre, hillside lots.
The conditions approved by the council will narrow the extended Sherwood Drive to 24 feet from the proposed 36 feet, which will slow traffic, but preclude parking along the street. In addition, the council approved conditions that will monitor traffic on the extended streets for two years and require the developer to make additional fixes if traffic volumes become a problem. Other conditions include landscaped medians, striping, stamped concrete “rumble strips” and other design features to slow traffic down and perhaps discourage people from using Sherwood to get in and out of the land exchange area, rather than staying on Airport down to McLane at the east end or Vista Drive at the west end.
The only condition the council rejected was a homeowner plea to leave the extended Sherwood barricaded until all of the property on top of the mesa had been developed. Public Works Director LaRon Garrett said such a move could leave the street blocked for years as developers built on individual parcels.
The proposed rezoning devotes most of the park and open space in the project to creating a 70-foot-deep, natural buffer zone between the proposed light industrial development and the existing subdivision on the west side of the proposed, 70-foot-wide northern extension of Vista Road.
The huge track of now natural land would gain one small park and an overlook site off Airport Drive.
Sherwood Drive resident Don Evans appealed to the council to impose some sort of restrictions on that proposed park, to keep kids and noise-makers from gathering in that park overlooking the homes down on Sherwood after 10 at night. That condition didn’t make it onto the final list of conditions.
Early drafts of the plan called for a large park and natural area along an existing drainage, to create a public space connected to the Payson Area Trails System (PATS). The development will still connect to PATS eventually, but most of the open space was transferred to the buffer zone along Vista.
The conditions on the zoning ordinance will essentially require the landowners to acknowledge that they’re in an airport zone, with a flight path over both the apartments and industrial zoning. Such an acknowledgment will presumably make it harder for future property owners to complain about airplane noise.