Blueprint For Change

Survey reveals fears about jobs, loss of small-town feel


Residents worried about speeders on McLane were among those who showed up this week at a meeting on the revision of Payson’s General Plan.

Residents worried about speeders on McLane were among those who showed up this week at a meeting on the revision of Payson’s General Plan. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Residents worried about speeders on McLane were among those who showed up this week at a meeting on the revision of Payson’s General Plan.

Residents love the size and feel of Payson, but decry the dearth of jobs, the lack of a town center and the inconvenience of living in a “shopping desert,” according to a compilation of 628 responses to a survey collected in an effort to overhaul the town’s General Plan.

Payson held the latest in a series of meetings on the revision of the blueprint for future growth this week and unveiled the compilation of questionnaires filled out in the previous meetings and on the town’s Web site.

Those results revealed deep anxiety about the town’s economy — with 90 percent listing the job picture as either “fair” or “poor.”

Moreover, even when people could find a job, more than 60 percent rated the convenience of job locations in Payson as fair or poor.

Town planners said the results demonstrate the need to revise the town’s land use policies and development approval processes to encourage diverse job growth. They hope to lure businesses like a university campus that provide high-paying, year-round jobs — rather than simply adding jobs in the low-paying service and tourism industry.

The town released a draft of the key issues and goals for the year-long process of revising the general plan, which will go to the voters early next year. The state requires towns to modify their general plans at least once every decade, generally after receiving the results of the latest census.

However, many participants in the Tuesday night session voiced frustration with the vague, slow-motion process, heavy with amiable generalizations but short on specifics and hard choices.

One block of participants mostly expressed concerns about speeders on McLane Road as it curves through a hilly residential area. Many houses have driveways that force homeowners to back out onto the busy street where drivers routinely exceed the 25-mile-an-hour residential speed limit as they careen around almost-blind curves. The street serves as a major route through town for people trying to avoid the often-congested highway and carries a morning and afternoon rush of people delivering students to the high school and middle school.

Their concerns neatly illustrated the conflict between the General Plan circulation element’s focus on moving drivers smoothly through town and the concerns of a cluster of homeowners. Such conflicts often lurk in the opaque planner’s language that runs through land use descriptions.

Overall, the surveys released this week showed that people love the small-town intimacy of Payson and the sense of community, even as they worry about the economy and the prospects for their children and their families.

For instance, more than 60 percent rated the “feel” of the town as either good or exceptional and only about 5 percent considered it poor. Likewise, about 60 percent rated the size of the town as good or exceptional.

Residents also gave the town high marks for public safety, with large majorities describing crime prevention and personal security as good or excellent.

Recreational opportunities generally got high ratings, although young people expressed a lot more dissatisfaction. About half of children responding rated the recreational opportunities as only fair or poor, while 80 percent of the seniors ranked the recreation here as good or excellent.

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Residents worried about speeders on McLane were among those who showed up this week at a meeting on the revision of Payson’s General Plan.

The ratings of the school system drew more mixed reviews. Generally, students offered a harsher evaluation of the schools than the adults.

Overall, about 55 percent of those responding considered the teaching and curriculum in the schools either fair or poor. About 35 percent of adults considered the school facilities either fair or poor, compared to about 60 percent of the students.

Based on the survey and other information, the town’s planning staff drew up a list of problems and goals to guide the process of overhauling the General Plan. That could include overhauling the amount of commercial and light industrial development — and once more try to puzzle out how to create a thriving commercial district — perhaps on Main Street.

The General Plan revisions will also likely revisit the town’s traffic plan. The survey showed big concerns with traffic congestion on the highway during the tourist season. Should the town push for a highway bypass to relieve congestion? Should it widen streets that allow residents to avoid the highway — like McLane and Manzanita?

The General Plan will also include a housing element, which aims to provide a range of homes so people who work in the community can afford to live here. Before the recession, the pressure of second-home and retirement buyers had priced many working-class residents out of the housing market — including even professionals like police officers and teachers. The recession lowered home prices by 20 or 30 percent, but it also drove down incomes — leaving the affordable housing problem intact. Town planners hope that the proposed university and its spin-off businesses will bring a flush of new, high-paying jobs to town. That will most likely boost housing prices — which could once again work against workers looking for housing. Payson currently has relatively few apartments and other multi-family projects — and very little land earmarked for future apartment developments.

Much of the language remained general and bland, with only a few hints of the painful, often-controversial choices that come into play when it comes time to decide on land uses and growth patterns. The town currently has about 15,000 residents. The current General Plan calls for a population of about 38,000 by the time landowners fully develop their property.

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