If developers ever do return to Payson, they will find they can build much smaller, hopefully cheaper, apartments and condos in town.
At least, that’s why the Payson council last week unanimously approved a change in the zoning rules for apartments and multiple-family residences, which could increase the number of units per acre.
Currently, developers can build no more than 18 units per acre in R-3, multi-family zonings.
Under the new rules, they can squeeze as many units onto the parcel as they want, so long as they meet the existing requirements for setbacks, the total percentage of the lot covered by buildings, parking and other restrictions.
Councilors said the new rules could prove helpful when it comes to things like providing affordable housing in town or providing housing for students attending a hoped-for university campus here.
“There’s a movement afoot to provide more livable-sizes, smaller units,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans. “Do we really need 4,000-square-foot homes for two people? People are living in smaller spaces and this is part of that movement.”
No one showed up to comment on the proposed increase in densities for multiple-family zones, but the council seemed wary of the possible public backlash.
“We’re keeping in place all the other restrictions,” said Councilor Richard Croy, who initially proposed the changes. Croy’s job outside the council involves putting together projects to build senior housing and other apartment projects. “This just allows us to be more flexible. If the university comes to town and we need student housing, this could be a big advantage in providing that.”
“But this still goes through all our regular planning processes,” said Councilor Su Connell.
“Nothing changes except in the R-3 zone,” Public Works Director LaRon Garrett assured her.
The new rules would allow developers to offer smaller apartments to get more units on a single piece of land, given the requirements for setbacks and open space. The town council also recently approved an increase in maximum building heights, which could also result in higher densities — especially if combined with smaller apartment sizes. However, the developers would still have to provide the same number of parking spaces per unit, despite the higher densities.
Prior to the recession and resulting collapse in housing construction and values, Payson had a serious problem in providing affordable housing. A housing study completed some five years ago concluded that a Payson resident making the average salary couldn’t afford the average home for sale.
Since then, home prices have dropped — but so have average salaries. It’s unclear whether the match between incomes and prices has improved, giving the decline in the town’s population and the sharp rise in poverty. The number of families with children who qualify for free and reduced federal lunches based on income has increased from under 50 percent before the recession to more than 70 percent now.