Town officials in Payson won’t have to search very far to find cheap underwear, since Wal-Mart wants to build a superstore right across Beeline Highway from Town Hall. The only problem is, two-thirds of the 20 acre parcel Wal-Mart wants to pave over is zoned single and multi-family residential. So last January, Wal-Mart went to the town Planning and Zoning Commission, which rejected their plan, in part, because it was less than a stone’s throw away from several residential complexes. Undeterred, Wal-Mart tweaked its plans for the 140,000 s.f. windowless building, and moved it back 500 feet from the homes. Keep in mind, Payson already has a Wal-Mart, but company officials say the “old prototype” store needs to be replaced, and residents rescued from “narrow aisles”. By March, when Wal-Mart went before the Town Council, they changed the project yet again by deleting a tire and lube center, a gas station in the parking lot, and the color of the building. The new plans call for a color mix of “forest greens, tans and browns”. Most of the trees may end up trashed, but at least the building will look green to remind citizens of what once stood on the spot. A group of local residents, unhappy with Wal-Mart redundant plans, formed The Citizens to Protect Payson, and after the Council voted for the project, placed the rezoning issue before the town in a May 19th. ballot referendum. Wal-Mart has responded with megadollars in campaign funds, running radiio and print ads. In one ad, Wal-Mart brags that the cost of buying a can of Coke at a Wal-Mart vending machine is 35??, while “at other soda machines” in Payson the same Coke costs 50??. “One small example,” the ad says, “of how Proposition 401 can make a difference.” Opponents says the big difference is not about the price of Coke, but the price to the community in lost jobs, lost property revenues, and impact on the quality of life. One resident compared the project to puttinig 10 pounds of manure into a 5 pound bag. “It’s too big for our town, added Richard Ashbaugh. “Is anybody listening to the people?” Apparently not. Wal-Mart has littered the town with smiley-face signs and “I support Wal-Mart buttons, and has labeled the citizens group an “outside special interest group”. Is Payson for sale to the highest bidder? Will voters actually believe that Wal-Mart means a net gain in jobs and tax revenues, when studies all across the country suggest that Wal-Mart cash registers ring from sales transferred from other businesses? Will Wal-Mart’s “can of Coke” argument go flat with the voters? The future of this mountain community, and its forest green asphalt and concrete Wal-Mart, will be decided on May 19th.
To find out how you can help the Citizens to Protect Payson, contact Joni or Terry Carroll, 806 W. Cherry St, Payson, AZ 85541. Their phone number is in the book.