Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

TOP STORY >> Private property handcuffs street plans

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

Discussions about the ownership of streets consumed about half of the more than two-hour city council meeting Monday night in Cabot, where traffic is commonly congested and traveling across town has become a major issue.

Opening Elm Street to keep traffic off Hwy. 89 has been a goal of Alderman David Polantz, and part of the $1.8 million in the bond issue voters approved last month is supposed to pay for it.

But opening the street could prove difficult, because where the street was plotted to go and where the city wants to put it are not the same.
As Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh explained, it is not possible to pave the gap that exists in the street without creating a “dog leg” that would be dangerous to motorists.

To make it run straight would require using property that Larry Nipper bought as an investment in 1974. Nipper is agreeable to selling the property, but he expects the price he could get on the open market for a commercial lot on a newly opened street.
The mayor told him the council would probably pay $25,000, a little more than its value as the residential lot it is.
“Over a year ago, I had a real estate agent approach me about selling for the Bank of the Ozarks,” Nipper told the council. “She offered $135,000. That sounded high to me, but not nearly as high as $25,000 sounds low.”

The amount the city is willing to pay is the same that he paid for it 31 years ago, he said.
Nipper said that since the city is determined to own his property, he should be allowed to rezone it to commercial. He pointed out that it is surrounded by businesses and therefore it should be zoned commercial. Furthermore, the city had caught him off guard with talk about taking it.

“If you’re trying to appraise it as R-1, you’re trying to take advantage of me,” Nipper said.
Jason Carter, the former Cabot city attorney who has filled in since Ken Williams resigned last month, suggested that an arbitrator should be called to settle the matter. He said after the meeting that it is clear neither side wants to take advantage of the other.
If arbitration fails, the city would simply take the property and a jury would decide how much it is worth, he told the council.
The council also dealt with improvements to Meirs Lane, a private drive that leads to Pleas-ant Forrest subdivision.
The planning commission wants the developers to use Meirs Lane as a secondary entrance to the subdivision. The street is considered private because there is no record that it was ever deeded to the city. However, the city has paved the street and therefore has a right to claim it, Carter said.

But the subdivision developers maintain that it doesn’t actually join their property so they have no authority to compel the owners to allow them to do anything to it.

The matter was sent back to the planning commission for discussion on an alternative to Meirs Lane.
In other business, the council voted 5-2 with one abstention “to prohibit the spending of city funds on advertising for an elected official without council approval.”

The ordinance was a direct result of the city paying $2,300 for an ad in Arkansas Business congratulating the mayor for being named to that publications’ “40 under 40” list of young Arkansans who are successful in their fields.

It was introduced two months ago by Alder-man Polantz, who made the motion Monday night to adopt it. Alder-man Eddie Cook seconded the motion.

Alderman Patrick Hutton spoke out against it, saying the city had enough laws on the books and that one was not necessary.
Voting for the ordinance were aldermen Polantz, Cook, James Glenn, Odis Waymack and Tom Armstrong. Voting against were Hutton and Jerry Steph-ens. Bob Duke abstained from voting.

The vote to approve spending $222,148 for a special census was unanimous.
The Cabot City Council is considering a special census that would cost $222,148, but could gain and additional $305,000, a year in tax revenue or $1.3 million between the time the census is completed and the next regular census is completed in 2011.
The city will borrow the money to pay for the census, since there is none in the city budget for it. Stumbaugh said he believed the money could be repaid in two years.

The mayor and council got information about the advantages of a special census that was provided by Metroplan, which uses building permits to estimate cities’ growth.

Metroplan estimates Cabot’s population at 19,967, which is 30.8 percent larger than it was when the 2000 census gave the city an official population of 15,261.

In making the estimates about the revenue gain, Metroplan assumed that the census would be completed early in 2006. The additional tax revenue from the state would be $64.92 per person.

The council also listened to a presentation by Sherman Banks about Sister Cities International, a program started by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 who hoped it would prevent future wars. Today the program also promotes commerce and an exchange of ideas.
The council agreed to talk about joining the organization.