Neighbors Once Again Protest Zone Change

Underwoods struggle to turn 2-acre lots into 1-acre lots

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Barbara Underwood

The near-epic struggle of Patrick and Barbara Underwood to win a zone change over the objection of many of their neighbors lurched into yet another dramatic hearing in front of the Payson Town Council last week.

“Every two years or so, we have to fight this all over again,” said Frank Bonitas. “Why? So the developer can make more money. They could still build six or seven homes and still make a profit and keep the neighborhood looking beautiful. So are you going to ruin our forest so someone can make a bigger profit? When are we going to learn?”

The latest hearing involved a request to reduce the minimum lot size from two acres to one acre. This would allow them to build 12 homes instead of seven.

But some neighbors bitterly protested the request at a hearing before the town council on Thursday. The town’s planning commission has already rejected the request on a 5-2 vote. The town council had earlier voted 5-2 in favor of a plan to build 14 houses on the property in July of 2009, but under state law, actually needed a six-vote supermajority to override the protests of neighbors.

The first reading of the zone change ordinance took testimony from a dozen people on both sides of the issue, but the council won’t actually vote until its next meeting.

Charles Kirkpatrick said “80 percent of the people in the area are against this. Think of all the trees they’ll cut down. This doesn’t do us any good, it only does the Underwoods good. It puts money in their pockets. It’s just very upsetting to people, very hurtful to the rest of us. We don’t want it.”

Marty Lambe said people had been “guilted or badgered” to support the rezoning. “We all have our dreams. Why should the town discriminate against the dreams of so many to satisfy the dreams of just two. Everyone said the Underwoods are good people. But if they’re such good people, wouldn’t they respect the desires of their neighbors?”

On the other hand, several people who lived in the area strongly supported the project.

Mike Foil, an appraiser, said many of the people objecting most vehemently live half a mile away and will never “see, hear or smell” the new houses, all set in the center of large, forested, one-acre lots.

Foil said the opposition of the neighbors infringes on the Underwoods’ private property rights. He noted that other, smaller lots exist closer to many homes of the people raising objections.

“If living within half a mile of a one-acre lot will lower their property values, then their value would have already been affected. I don’t see how five extra homes on a cul-de-sac you don’t have to drive past will affect your property value.”

Dawn Brunson also supported the rezoning request, noting that she has lived in Payson since the age of 10 and now lives in a nearby development with much smaller lots.

“I apologize for bringing down the value of your homes, but I love where I live. I am thankful that the opposition that I see here tonight wasn’t here when the council approved my home. And I can’t help but think that if my parents had fought as hard for this ‘not in my back yard’ approach, the people protesting tonight would not be here either. I say, ‘shame on you.’ We’re in a bad economy and everyone is struggling out there” and needs the jobs the project will produce.

Barbara Underwood, also a school board member, said she and her husband had “jumped through every hoop” and followed every law and even paid to extend the sewer line to the property to fulfill a deed restriction that limited lots to two acres unless the lots were connected to the sewer system. She also presented a petition signed by 32 people who favored the rezoning. They even changed their plans to reduce the requested number of lots from 14 to 12 as a result of neighborhood opposition.

“Even when the zone change somehow got rescinded, we weren’t concerned, because we had faith in the system,” she said.

Barbara and Patrick Underwood have waged a long, complicated, sometimes bitter struggle to change the two-acre lot zoning on 15 acres they own off Tyler Parkway.

Back in 2004, they won a council vote to create one-acre lots. That change was consistent with the “low-density” designation in the general plan, but required a change in the actual zoning. However, the Underwoods agreed to hold off on the project until the town had an assured water supply. To their surprise, that prompted the council to actually revoke the zone change.

The Underwoods returned to a new council in 2009, with a request for a zone that change that would allow for 14 homes. The council majority approved that request, with Councilor Ed Blair and Councilor Mike Vogel in opposition. However, state law requires a “supermajority” vote of the council if neighbors protest a rezoning.

Since that vote, former town manager Fred Carpenter unseated Vogel. The other five members who previously sided with the Underwoods when they wanted to build 14 homes remain on the council.

So much of the argument during the hour-long discussion on Thursday was pitched mostly at Carpenter.

The opponents mostly argued that they had a right to expect the zoning to remain consistent, since many bought in the subdivision specifically because of the two-acre lot minimum and the rural feel.

Corb Corbin said he sold his home in the Knolls on a 2.56-acre lot because he had “lost my serenity” when the developers built a road on the edge of his property. So he bought two, two-acre lots in the Tuscany Estates Subdivision — only to find his peace and quiet again threatened by the people living on the 12 proposed lots. He feared the impact of noise, construction and a bottleneck should those new residents have to flee the neighborhood in an emergency — like a fire.

He said the Underwoods should stick with the two-acre lots because they would prove easier to sell, since they’re in relatively short supply. “Those people who can afford to buy in this economy are buying the bigger properties.”

Diane Williams agreed, citing figures from real estate listings suggesting that there are 58 one-acre lots for sale in the region and just 17 two-acre lots. She added that once the nearby country club development emerges from bankruptcy it will dump another 50 one-acre sites on the market.

However, Foil disputed those figures in his support for the rezoning. He said that as of April 11 within the Payson town limits. exclusive of the two golf-course developments, the MLS listed just 17 properties between .75 and 1.75 of an acre and another 19 in the 1.76 to 2.75 of an acre. In the past year, the records show the sale of just a single, one-acre parcel and no two-acre parcels in the town limits. In the past two years, the MLS shows the sale of five, one-acre parcels and two, two-acre parcels.

As a result, he concluded, the figures suggest a slightly better market right now for one-acre parcels.

He concluded, “this is an emotional issue on both sides, but the whole debate is about five lots when there’s not much demand for either one-acre or two-acre lots.”

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