With existing plans gathering dust and years of meetings without progress on projects like revitalizing Main Street, some Payson residents have started to question the value of the expensive and time-consuming overhaul of the town’s general plan.
The state requires a once-a-decade update of the general plan approved by a townwide vote, so Payson has launched a 14-month process with the help of a $200,000 set of consultants to set the tone and direction for growth in Payson for the next 10 years.
At a recent workshop, some participants wondered if their efforts were in vain. While most enjoyed marking on maps areas most ready for redevelopment, some wondered aloud whether all the suggestions will have an impact.
Resident Donovan Christian said he has for years heard talk about fixing up Main Street, for example, but seen no real improvement for all the planning.
The town has struggled to turn the mile-long street into a pedestrian-friendly retail center, but widely scattered, empty storefronts still dominate large stretches.
The groups at the general plan workshop generally agreed that Main Street remains the top priority for future growth.
While committees, individuals and town boards and commissions have offered countless ideas to revive the street, none of those plans have come to fruition.
Christian asked planners if they could explain why the American Gulch plan didn’t work. The town spent $4.8 million to develop that project a decade ago, which included a 200-foot-wide channel running from Sawmill Crossing to Green Valley Park with walking and bicycle paths and shops, restaurants and galleries around it.
Various concerns, but mostly issues about cost, snagged the project, leaving it to gather dust. A luxury condo project just off Main Street was supposed to include a waterfall and a stream along a stretch of the American Gulch, but the downturn prompted the developer to shelve the plans for fears she couldn’t sell the homes.
Darren Coffey, a consultant with the Berkley Group, part of the team hired by the town to help update the general plan, said he had never heard of the American Gulch, but would research it.
Donovan asked Coffey if in 10 years they would be sitting around “like we are today wondering why things never happened.”
Coffey agreed that “a plan does no good” if it is never put into action and that it would be up to residents to keep town officials accountable for executing any plan.
Sheila DeSchaaf, with Payson’s Community Development Department, said she understands that planners and residents get frustrated when nothing tangible comes out of these plans. However, the general plan remains crucial, she said.
The document not only guides the town’s capital improvement budget, it has a huge impact on land use.
The plan details land use restrictions by earmarking land for commercial, industrial, high-density residential and low-density residential uses. The zoning ordinance then implements the land use prescriptions of the general plan. This all influences where future businesses open and what they look like.
If, for example, someone wants to build a multi-story condominium on Main Street and it is not earmarked for high-density residential in the general plan, the developer would have to convince the council to first change the general plan and then change the zoning ordinance, DeSchaaf said. State law limits the number of times a town can change its general plan.
Regarding the American Gulch project, DeSchaaf blamed the lack of money for its failure.
“If we had the money, I am sure it would be there,” she said.
She said the town has focused on patching potholes in recent years instead of major improvement projects because of a restrictive budget. Typically, developers pay for major improvements, but the town hasn’t approved a major project in years.
While some of the ideas in the general plan may never come to light, it is a building tool that serves the town, she said.
So far, general plan meetings have drawn a crowd each time. She said residents and business leaders clearly want to see Payson succeed.
“Public participation has been great so far,” she said. “The consultants have been very impressed with the turnout.”
At the next planning meeting, on May 21 at 6 p.m. at the Payson Public Library, 328 N McLane Road, the consultants will unveil a rough draft of the general plan revisions. The public is encouraged to review it and add their suggestions, she said.