In a rare split vote, the Payson Town Council last week agreed to streamline the process of approving small subdivisions.
The new rule will allow town staff to approve preliminary plat maps on subdivisions with less than 10 lots. The council will still approve the final map, but state law requires automatic approval so long as the final map is in “substantial compliance” with the preliminary map, according to Town Attorney Tim Wright.
The new rules included other changes, but taking the council out of the process of approving the initial plan for the subdivision spurred the most debate.
The streamlined process only affects the plan for the layout of the lots, not the zoning or the land use and doesn’t apply to developments with more than 10 lots.
Councilor Ed Blair said neighbors need a hearing before the town council to have their say about even small subdivisions.
The council’s approval provides “a filter through which and at which citizens’ thoughts and concerns can be addressed.”
As an example, he cited the recent series of contentious hearings about a request to subdivide 10 one-acre lots in a neighborhood where most of the surrounding parcels are all two-acres in size. The property owners, Barbara Underwood and her husband, reduced the subdivision to eight lots to meet the objections of the neighbors, then attended repeated hearings before the planning commission and town council that lasted for months before getting approval. In the end, the planning commission opposed the subdivision maps but the council overruled it.
Under the new rules, the Underwoods would have had to have a community meeting but then would have needed only town staff approval.
“Having the planning commission and the council examine the plat map will take longer,” conceded Blair, “but in a small town the feelings of the neighbors are important to the community.”
Councilor Fred Carpenter agreed. “The more review the better.”
However, other council members said the town should streamline the development process whenever possible, instead of subjecting property owners to months of repeated hearings about minor changes.
“Citizens who may be concerned are free to talk to any council member,” said Croy, now running unopposed for re-election after having run originally on a platform critical of growth limits and red tape. “This might be an opportunity to streamline the process for that little guy. It keeps the cost down.”
Vice Mayor Michael Hughes, presiding in the absence of Mayor Kenny Evans, asked whether most other towns require a council review of preliminary plat maps.
Town Attorney Wright said state law allows the town to not have preliminary plat map approval at all, but does require the council to approve final maps.
Councilor Su Connell said that even without a hearing before the council on the preliminary maps, neighbors will have their say at a community meeting and before the town staff.
“I agree we want citizens involved, but they will be heard — not only by the planning and zoning but by the town staff. Our citizens will be heard. We’ve never suggested we not involve the citizens.”
Town Public Works Director LaRon Garrett said “the intention was to streamline the process and reduce government red tape.”
Councilor John Wilson agreed with the proposed changes. “I’m in favor of reducing red tape.”
Blair then moved to amend the staff’s recommendation to require council approval of the preliminary subdivision maps.
The motion failed on a 3-3 vote, with Blair, Connell and Carpenter supporting continued council review. Croy, Hughes and Wilson voted against that amendment.
The council then voted on whether to accept the staff recommendation.
This time, only Blair and Carpenter voted against the motion.