The Future Knocks, The Room’S Ready

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The future doesn’t always call ahead for reservations. So sometimes, you have to keep the guest bedroom ready — just in case.

Seems like the Payson Town Council understands that — judging from the nearly final proposal to allow high rise buildings in town — up to seven stories in carefully defined areas.

Now, a couple of years ago — we suspect the proposal would have stirred a lot more fear and angst and opposition. But the recession has hit us hard — and forced people to rethink some assumptions.

At its heart, the proposal to allow four- to seven-story buildings in commercial, industrial and multi-family zones if the properties and design meet very strict requirements pose the question: What sort of place do we want to become?

Back in the boom days that seemed pretty clear for most residents. We wanted to remain a quiet, beautiful mountain town, with first-rate public services and schools, quiet neighborhoods, clean air — build on the bedrock of a healthy retirement sector, tourism and real estate and construction. And we still do want this.

Concerns about water prompted the imposition of growth controls — but the constraints on growth also eased residents’ fears we’d grow into some helter-skelter version of Prescott Valley.

Then along comes the recession, which smothered construction, dropped housing prices, sent many young couples packing, emptied storefronts and forced drastic cuts down at town hall — cuts which have begun to affect even police and fire protection.

Clearly, we need to build that yearned for future on a strong economic foundation — without losing those qualities that we love so dearly — the peace, quiet, beauty and small-town feel.

That delicate balance is reflected in the proposed ordinance to allow buildings to rise above the current three-story limit.

Clearly, the backers of the change have some big projects in mind. Obviously, the new height limit will become crucial if Arizona State University ever builds a four-year campus here. Moreover, town officials reportedly remain in negotiations with several groups interested in building a convention hotel — perhaps close to the proposed campus. Once again, a high-rise hotel makes perfect sense.

Town officials are also working hard at attracting carefully selected light industry. In addition, plans for the college anticipate an adjacent research park. All those sites might make excellent locations for higher profile buildings that wouldn’t impact existing neighborhoods.

Finally, the town continues to wrestle with the intractable problem of providing affordable housing. Higher profile apartment buildings might prove vital in trying to solve that puzzle as well.

Opening the door, diversify the economy

If we’re going to build a healthy, stable community that can ride out the next downturn without such trauma, we need to open the door to projects that will deepen and diversify the economy of Rim Country.

However, we completely agree with the residents who have spoken at the numerous hearings on the question. Five-, six- and seven-story buildings scattered carelessly around town could easily wreck the rural atmosphere, privacy and forested feel that makes this such a special place. Buildings that tower over existing neighborhoods and destroy back yard privacy would blight this town — no matter how much developer money they lured.

As it stands the proposed ordinance seems to strike the proper balance.

Developers in the designated zones would have to apply to the planning commission for a special use permit to hit 56 feet. The commission could deny that request based on a list of factors –— including compatibility with surrounding development, privacy and impact on views.

A request to go all the way to six or seven stories would require a zone change and a special use permit — which means repeated hearings before both the planning commission and the council. That same list of considerations would provide the basis for rejecting the application.

So the law as it stands seems to include sufficient safeguards — providing of course that the planning commission and the council do their jobs and do not approve buildings that would ruin the character of the town, just because some developer waves a wad of cash.

So we support the final approval of the ordinance as it now stands. Of course, that means residents must remain involved and vocal to be sure that future councils don’t misuse the power the ordinance gives them.

After all, just because you’ve got the spare bedroom ready doesn’t mean you have to open the door to some greasy flimflammer who happens to know your cousin.

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