Payson Wants Higher Apartment Densities

Town council clears way to consider removing 18-unit-per-acre cap in multi-family zones

Richard Croy

Richard Croy

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Developers can build smaller houses packed in tighter — so long as it still looks pretty from the street.

That’s the gist of a proposed change in the zoning rules for apartments the Payson Town Council is considering.

But don’t worry: The repeated public hearings necessary to change the town’s general plan and zoning ordinance won’t take place for months.

The proposal would remove the town’s current 18 units-per-acre limit on the density of housing in zoning set aside for multi-family developments. Most of the vacant land for apartments currently remains off Airport Road overlooking the town.

The proposal would not change the setback, height, landscaping and parking requirements — so neighbors might not see much difference.

Currently, Payson’s lowest density zoning categories allow one house for every one to two acres. Most single-family neighborhoods have three to four houses per acre and multi-family neighborhoods have no more than 18 units per acre.

However, the proposed general plan change would eliminate the 18-unit limit, leaving developers free to propose higher densities so long as they abided by the other rules.

“We’ve seen a pretty remarkable change among the planning and zoning professionals in the past four or five years,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans at last week’s council meeting. “Spreading towns out as it turns out is a bad idea. There’s a movement afoot touting higher densities.”

He said the trend is particularly pronounced in towns like Payson with many retired and second-home residents.

“Increasingly you’re seeing 800- and 1,200-square-foot homes that are still high end, catering to retirees. They’re saying, ‘we don’t need 5,000 square feet for the two of us.’”

The council expressed support for the planning commission’s suggestion that the town change its zoning ordinance to leave the density cap open-ended, but wrestled with the timing of the proposed changes.

The Planning Commission wanted to change the town’s zoning ordinance, but realized that the council must first change the underlying General Plan restrictions. However, state law limits major general plan amendments to one a year.

So the town council directed the planning staff to prepare for the general fund change, but not actually move forward until the fall — in case the town wanted to consider other major changes at the same time.

“But I’d like you not to delay the process,” cautioned Councilor Richard Croy.

“We don’t want this on the agenda at the first meeting in January,” agreed Evans.

“We’re not really changing the rules, we’re just throwing out that number,” said Croy.

Public Works Director LaRon Garrett said the planning staff would prepare to make the change, but put off going to the planning commission until next fall.

He noted that if the Rim Country Educational Alliance starts work on a university campus here this year or next, the campus would likely involve many exceptions to the town’s current zoning ordinance. For instance, the proposed student dorms might easily exceed the town’s current building height limit or density limits.

Payson joined forces with Star Valley to create a Separate Legal Entity in order to buy forest land — some 400 acres on which the Alliance hopes to build a campus and various support facilities. That SLE would become exempt from town zoning requirements, just like existing school sites. As a result, the eventual construction of the campus would not require a general plan amendment.

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