Drive east on Highway 260 and you will get a view of what photo enforcement cameras can buy. Blink and you may miss it.
Despite raking in significant revenue from four speed cameras, Star Valley looks largely the same as it did seven years ago when it incorporated — a highway frontage blighted with old buildings, empty storefronts and mismatched signage.
But Mayor Bill Rappaport and other town councilors say that lack of commercial development is just fine. They moved to the small community because of what it lacked — big box stores and noisy industrial areas.
Star Valley’s real charm lies with the forest and wildlife all around it, Rappaport said.
While the main corridor has received little attention, the town has
put significant money toward improvements intended to improve the quality of life.
Drive down a residential street and the ride is a little smoother. The town proudly touts it paved nearly every road in town. It failed, however, to get the easements needed to make some of them wide enough for two-lane travel, which Councilor George Binney pointed out recently.
The council also spent hundreds of thousands to buy and renovate a new town hall, spent nearly $1 million for a water company and nearly $200,000 annually on a police contract with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.
Through it all, the council has remained committed to protecting the town’s rural character.
Last week, the council discussed what the town should do next.
Several councilors said maintaining and upgrading the water system tops their lists. Others suggested buying a park, mitigating flooding and some economic development.
Councilor Vern Leis, who helped negotiate the sale of the water company with Brooke Utilities, said the water system needs upgrading. Brooke Utilities has reportedly not added to the system in at least 10 years.
Still, records reveal few customer complaints or problems with the water system.
Councilor Gary Coon said he would like to see the water system expanded to more residents.
Currently, the system has some 360 hookups, with the majority of town residents on private wells.
Contamination of these wells is possible, experts have said, since many residents also rely on aging septic systems.
While the council maintains contamination is not an imminent threat, “the attention must also be given to the fact that contamination could be a problem in the future,” Coon said.
Coon suggested the town add infrastructure so more residents can hook up to the water system. As it added customers, the town could shut down shallower wells that pose a contamination risk and effectively shift residents to the town’s deeper wells.
“Every private well that is replaced with clean municipal water is one more well eliminated from the possibility of contamination,” Coon said.
Councilor George Binney questioned drilling new wells if contamination became an issue.
“We are not ensuring the safety of water here. If we drill more wells in polluted water we have polluted water,” he said.
Binney said he didn’t understand why the town bought the water system after the council voted not to go after a share of Blue Ridge water.
“I learned a big lesson in this one,” he said. “I don’t think we have a polluted water problem, but we don’t have a secondary water source.”
Binney initially believed the town was buying the water company because it needed the water rights to get an allotment of Blue Ridge water, an above-ground water supply.
However, the council decided the town did not have the money to do anything with the water and so voted to pass up Blue Ridge, for now.
“I don’t know why we really bought it, I don’t think that was a real well thought out issue. I went into thinking it was a secondary water source we were going after. I found out different,” Binney said.
Despite this, Binney suggested the town add fire hydrants as it made improvements.
Binney was the most outspoken councilor during the goal-setting session, speaking for more than 17 minutes.
Like other councilors, Binney said maintaining the rural atmosphere was key.
Rappaport agreed, saying he moved to Star Valley from the Valley because of the lack of major businesses.
“I don’t think we need a big box store here, I don’t think we need expanding development. I think commercial development can stay in Payson,” he said. “It is four miles away, it is close enough.”
Rappaport added, “I would like to turn Star Valley into the premier bedroom community in northern Arizona, a place where people really want to come live and set down roots,” he said. “God knows I could live anywhere I want and this is the best place I have ever lived.”
The council agreed if residents wanted a faster pace of life and more amenities they would move someplace else.
While the council agreed development should be kept at a minimum, it agreed the community needs a place to gather.
A park, possibly in the empty lot next to town hall, was suggested.
Others favored creating a trail riding system and hiking trails around town.
If the town bought the empty lot next to town hall for a park, it would constitute one of its first frontage road improvements.
Councilor Barbara Hartwell said the commercial area is not visually appealing.
She suggested an ordinance requiring businesses to maintain a level of neatness along Highway 260.
In addition, she suggested the town require landlords tear down old, empty businesses.
Binney suggested the town look at flood control issues, which have a direct impact on residents’ safety. Periodic floods threaten many homes.
“While we have done an immense amount, we still have areas that we need to look at” including flooding, Leis said.