Forrest Gressley thought he had a solution to a problem that he’s stared at through his office window for years.
He is president of Tonto Rock Products on Phoenix Street and McLane. Across the parking lot, at the end of McLane Road, lies a nearly 20-acre piece of private property. It separates the Payson Event Center from Main Street.
“It is zoned as a mix of commercial and R2 residential,” said Gressley.
At one point, someone tried to build a home on the hill, but the infrastructure needed to get up the hill ended that venture and many others.
Gressley, a fourth generation Rim Country resident, last remembers that property sold right before the 2008 recession.
“A bank in Chicago owns it now,” he said.
Whenever he’s heard of someone interested in that property, the work and dollars needed to build a road and put in utilities stops the project.
But Gressley’s got a business idea: remove and sell decomposed granite and dirt on the side, which will increase the space available to develop. Then leave a road, sewer and other utility hook-ups to spur commercial development.
“I’d like to see a convention center here,” he said.
One side of the property looks down on the Event Center, the other, the back side of Main Street. This has Gressley thinking he can help the town’s issues with the topography of the Event Center and the flooding issues of the American Gulch.
“Right now, with the way that property sits ... the rodeo grounds are not on sewer,” he said.
Although the three parcels total more than 19 acres, only the topmost two are able to be developed, said Gressley.
He’d like to drop that down, flatten it out and then terrace the hillside facing McLane to add more space for commercial development.
“We’ve talked to more than 50 or 60 people,” he said. “No one wants houses up here.”
But the current zoning limits his ability to put his business plan into action.
So, since February, he’s been to the Payson Planning and Zoning Commission twice to ask them to approve changing the zoning to industrial.
He will next face the commission on April 5. Whether they approve his plans, the next step is going before the Payson Town Council.
He estimates he’ll only need five years to complete the grading and grinding.
He doesn’t need a lot of machinery. He won’t need many buildings, either.
“What we are proposing to the town — we want to stay out of sight,” he said.
On the town’s side, they see the benefit of another quarry that can provide more decomposed granite and dirt.
“Arizona Revised Statutes requires general plans to identify current and potential sources of aggregate material,” wrote Doni Wilbanks of Payson’s Community Development in her analysis to the commission.
“The intent of the statutory requirement is to provide opportunities for communities, along with current and future aggregate producers, to avoid unnecessary land use conflicts, ensure long-term availability of low-cost construction materials, and achieve the highest and best land uses for these sites once mining ceases.”
Gressley said the town will need additional building materials soon as multi-home developments are ready to break ground.
But the town is classifying Gressley’s project as a mine and that has some in the community up in arms.
“There are people going around town that are saying things that are untrue,” he said.
Gressley believes if the community understood his plans, they would see how the project could not only improve the Event Center, but that area around McLane and the American Gulch, all the while providing more land to be developed.
A lot would change besides the hillside if Gressley can move forward on his project.
“If we do this, we want to move the corporate offices,” he said.
C. R. Mynard, acting president of the Pinon Ridge Homeowners Association, is flatly against the project.
“The zoning changes proposed by 20-006 and 20-008 for the hillside west of S. McLane St. seem astonishing, like no one has compared the city zoning map with the hilltop topography of that site,” he wrote. “I have made a rough calculation of the immense quantity of solid rock, 2.7 million cubic yards, that would be blasted and removed, leaving an 80- to 100-ft. cliff where the scenic wooded hillside north of the rodeo grounds currently exists. That such a huge quarry would be deemed a minor change to the zoning or subdivision workup is appalling and worthy of public announcement via the Payson Roundup. I am strongly opposed to such a visual blight on the area and on the extensive blasting and dust that would ensue if the quarry is allowed to be created, plus the traffic issues detailed in the attachment.”
For more information on the project, visit http://www.paysonaz.gov/Departments/CommunityDev/Planning-Zoning/agendas/2021/02-08-21/P20-008.pdf.