Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

TOP STORY >> Developer abandons Cabot project

By SARA GREENE & JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writers

The Rockwood Heights Commer-cial Subdivision in Cabot is “dead,” according to John Moore of Little Rock’s Blue Cube Development LLC after the Cabot City Council voted 5-1 on Monday night against rezoning 11.15 acres along Hwy. 89 and Rock-wood Road owned by J.B. and Gladys Smith from residential to commercial.

“We don’t think we’re going to be doing anything with that property,” Moore told The Leader on Tuesday. “We think there’s a lot of potential in Cabot, but we’d probably be shy about developing there after this.”

The matter is now dead for at least a year unless the Smiths decide to develop it as a residential subdivision before it is again eligible for rezoning. The rezoning turned controversial when about 100 Rockwood residents showed up for the December council meeting to protest the rezoning that had been recommended for app-roval two weeks earlier by the planning commission.

The residents told the council they didn’t even know the rezoning was a possibility until it went before the commission. More than 170 homeowners organized to fight it by forming the Rockwood Residents and Property Owners Association and hiring Stephen R. Giles, a Little Rock real estate attorney.

“They listened,” Jerald Garner, president of the association, said of the council vote on the rezoning that failed. “To me, that was city government at its best.”

Alderman Odis Waymack, who said during an earlier meeting that no one could stop the commercial development along Highway 89, voted for the rezoning.

“The city has reached a point where it can no longer serve just a few persons’ interests at the exclusion of the majority of its citizens,” said state Rep. Susan Schulte (R-Cabot), who lives in the area of the proposed development.

The Monday night council vote means that for a while the residents won’t have to worry about any businesses sprouting up at the entrance to their subdivision.

“No one should take credit for stopping it,” Garner said. “It should be put down in the books as government working for the people.”

Garner said he believes the advantage to organizing is that there are more eyes to keep a watch over their community. If zoned commercial, the property is estimated to be worth $2 million.

Garner says he is sure that the property will come up for rezoning again, and he knows that the city needs to grow commercially for the tax revenue.

But the residents didn’t know what would go on the site and that was what concerned them the most, he said.
The developers told the residents that they had one commitment to the proposed subdivision, a 12,000-square-foot Crye-Leike Realtors office, but they didn’t have buyers for the other lots.

“It’s rezoning 11-plus acres at the corner of a local street and a state highway only because the developer says ‘I’ve got a user for one lot,’” Giles said.

Garner told the council that residents still had concerns about traffic, light pollution at night and noise caused by a commercial development.

“We’re not against the betterment of Cabot. What we are not for is doing a C2 zoning without taking care of the already congested and horrific traffic that is going on there,” Garner said.

Moore told council members Blue Cube was planning a 15-foot natural buffer zone of trees along with a six-foot tall privacy fence around the development for privacy and a bill of assurance to be signed by any business in the commercial subdivision.
“The (Rockwood) housing association was arguing details but at the end of the day they just didn’t want the development,” Moore said.

In other business, the city council voted not to enter into eminent domain proceedings to take about a quarter acre from Larry Nipper so the city can widen and straighten Elm Street as a way to alleviate traffic off Hwy. 89.

“I have a hard time taking a man’s property and not giving him what he’s asking for it,” said Alderman Jerry Stephens.
The land appraised at $18,600 as residential property, but Nipper had it rezoned commercial. The city had the property appraised for $60,000. The city council offered Nipper $66,000 for the property which is the appraised value plus 10 percent.

At a previous council meeting, Nipper said two different appraisers told him it was not enough and he was asking $85,000 for the property.

Nipper respectfully declined the offer.

“I felt the price they were offering is not in line with the other commercial property being sold in Cabot,” Nipper said. “I was surprised. I thought they were going to take my land.”