Let’s move it along.
At least when it comes to approving site plans for new development.
That’s the gist of the Payson Town Council’s first move toward adopting changes that will streamline approval of preliminary plat maps — in the event that anyone ever starts actually building stuff in Payson again.
The council would retain the job of approving final plat maps.
In the future, the planning commission will approve preliminary plat maps showing the detailed layout of new developments larger than 10 lots. For developments less than 10 lots, the town’s staff can approve the plan.
The council would still approve the zoning, but so long as a developer complied with the zoning restrictions, the new rules could in theory move approvals along much more briskly.
Currently, the planning commission recommends approval of all such site plans to the council, which votes final approval.
The town’s planning staff recommended the changes, along with a slew of other minor shifts. The planning commission approved most of the changes, but balked at the suggestion the town staffers gain the power to approve site plans for developments with fewer than 10 lots without going before the planning commission.
Several councilors also expressed concerns about giving the town staff more power.
“The neighbors do like to have a say,” said Councilor Ed Blair, perhaps recalling the extended debate about minor changes in the configurations for a proposed development off Tyler Parkway. “Citizens had an opportunity for a give and take. We trust LaRon (Garrett, the town engineer), but the next development director may be more easily influenced.”
“I’m concerned that the preliminary plat no longer goes to council,” agreed Councilor Fred Carpenter.
However, Town Attorney Tim Wright said that once the council approves the zoning, it has only limited legal authority to reject a site plan that’s consistent with the zoning.
“Once a developer has zoning, if you chose not to give them a plat you will probably pay them and then give them the plat,” said Wright. Under the proposal, “the final plat does come to the council — but the council has relatively little discretionary authority.”
However, Blair said the council can often extract voluntary adjustments, as when the council convinced the developer of some condos near town hall to agree to improve Manzanita — although the development fell through before the improvements were made.
Councilor John Wilson saw little point in a separate hearing before the council on preliminary plat maps. “If planning and zoning is happy with what is being proposed, we should go with it.”
Councilor Richard Croy agreed. “I think it’s just an opportunity to have a little less government involvement in a plat.”
The council won’t actually vote on the proposal until its next regular meeting.
The discussion offered a faint echo of the debate about development that once convulsed town politics. Four years ago, Mayor Kenny Evans and Councilors Richard Croy and Michael Hughes were elected on platforms opposed to the town’s then strict growth controls.
Only a handful of developments have come before the council in the past four years. Even the two or three sizable projects approved have ended up stalled by the economy. As a result, other than repealing the now meaningless 250-unit-a-year limit on building permits, the council has made few changes in the town’s development procedures.