Payson Council Ponders Firing, Contentious Rezoning

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Two potentially controversial zoning cases will reveal the Payson council’s view of the town’s future on Thursday.

One case involves a request to turn seven roughly two-acre lots into 12 one-acre lots in a subdivision off Tyler Parkway.

The second case involves a plan to establish a special “educational zone” for roughly 350 acres where investors hope to eventually build a college campus. The special zoning designation would operate like a planned unit development, conferring more flexibility on things like building heights, parking, landscaping and special uses within the educational zone.

In addition, the council will consider whether to overrule the town manager’s decision to fire a town employee who works with computers. The council will consider the recommendations of a hearing officer, which after a May 2 hearing essentially supported the appeal of Tonia Erin. Town officials said details of that hearing and the reasons for the termination won’t be released until after the council makes its decision on Thursday.

The zoning issues will likely dominate the regular council meeting.

The request by Patrick and Barbara Underwood to rezone 15 acres will likely draw the most debate, judged by the reactions of many neighbors during the previous attempts to talk the council into approving the rezoning during the past six years.

Some neighbors have protested the proposed rezoning, saying that the one-acre lots will spoil the character of the rural, thickly forested neighborhood dominated by two-acre lots.

The property was annexed to the town in 1992, with the rural, Gila County zoning intact. The council approved the rezoning without protest in 2004, but later rescinded the rezoning when it appeared the town didn’t have enough water to support new development.

The Underwoods tried again to win a rezoning in 2009. The council actually supported the request at that time on a 5-2 vote, but because neighbors had protested they needed a 6-1 vote to win approval.

Now, the Underwoods have come back again — having trimmed the requested number of lots from 14 to 12. They gathered the support of some people living in the neighborhood, but still face a hard core of bitter opponents.

Critics maintain that the Underwoods can make a profit and sell their land without changing the nature of the neighborhood with the five extra lots.

Supporters say the Underwoods have a right to develop their property as they see fit and most of the protesting residents won’t even see the extra houses surrounded by trees in the center of their one-acre lots.

The planning commission opposed the rezoning on a 5-1 vote.

The council held a hearing on the rezoning request two weeks ago and will vote on the request on Thursday at the regular council meeting starting at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers.

The issue may come down to the position of the newest council member, former town manager Fred Carpenter, who in November replaced Councilor Mike Vogel, who was one of two council members who opposed the rezoning last time around.

The agenda also includes the proposal to establish a special educational zoning category, tailor made for the proposed 6,000-student college campus.

Payson wants to set up a Separate Legal Entity (SLE) to build the college in partnership with Gila County and the Town of Star Valley. The SLE would buy the land and build the campus and related facilities like a research park and convention hotel, most likely selling bonds to repay some $400 million in private investments and loans. The SLE would then essentially lease the facilities to ASU, a convention hotel and various manufacturing firms.

The establishment of the educational zone category would give the town broad flexibility to design the campus, which would feature a low-energy use design. The campus would have dorms, classrooms and support facilities. Designers hope to preserve a forested feel, rely on multi-story dorms and buildings to minimize the footprint of the buildings and likely rely on multi-story parking structures so that people would mostly get around on campus by foot, bicycles or shuttles.

All of that would make the campus more like a flexible, planned unit development that would meeting zoning restrictions and codes without the boundaries of the campus, rather than requiring each building to have all the parking and setbacks and other requirements in the existing code.

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