Leader Blues

Friday, August 11, 2006

TOP STORY >> Annexation appealed by Jacksonville

IN SHORT: The city will take the county judge’s ruling to circuit court to stop 2,000 acres from going into Sherwood.

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Jacksonville will appeal the county judge’s recent decision to let four landowners annex their 2,000 acres into Sherwood.

Jacksonville had already opposed the voluntary annexation request by the owners, and Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines ordered a hearing on the matter in June. At the hearing, he request that both Sherwood and Jacksonville submit their legal arguments by July 15.

Last week, the judge ruled that the annexation request met all the state and local requirements and could proceed. According to Mike Clayton, Sherwood’s city engineer, there are two ways to annex into a city, through voluntary or involuntary means.

Four developers—Greg Heslep, Byron McKimmey, Metropolitan Realty and Lilac LLC—volunteered to come into Sherwood. For the city to accept a voluntary petition, it must be signed by at least 51 percent of the landowners, controlling at least 51 percent of the land.

In this case, the voluntary petition was signed by 100 percent of the landowners, controlling 100 percent of the land.

Villines said in his order that Sherwood could only refuse the annexation if it were “unable to provide services to the annexed area.”

“Don’t worry,” Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon said, “we’ll provide service.”

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said the city would appeal the ruling within the required 30 days. An appeal would be heard in circuit court.

In its earlier objections, Jacksonville said the land was better served as part of Jacksonville, that the city had utilities already in that area.

Jacksonville City Attorney Bob Bamburg also argued that the Little Rock Air Force Base’s aircraft safety flight zone extended into part of the are proposed for annexation and that Jacksonville had ordinances protecting that area from excessive development as requested by the Air Force.

The city also argued that the annexation would create an island of residential housing around Hatcher Road that would remain in the county because it was not included in the voluntary annexation.

Mayor Swaim said those factors would be brought up again in the appeal. “At this time I don’t know if we’ll add any other points,” he said.

The appeal won’t necessarily stop one of the landowners who filed plans with Sherwood to build a light commercial development on part of his property. The owner, Heslep, according to city engineer, was going to file for approval with the county too, which still has jurisdiction over the land.

The 2,000 acres of undeveloped land stretches north off Sherwood and west of Jack-sonville, touching the edge of the Little Rock Air Force Base.

When the four property owners filed for voluntary annexation, Jacksonville opposed the idea and appealed to the county judge who had to release the land from the county, so it could become part of Sherwood.

In his recent order, Villines said. “The Court is not persuaded that extraterritorial planning jurisdiction precludes annexation.
The judge further ruled, “The creation of an island is not grounds to void an annexation.”

He also said in his order that the court “does not believe its discretion extends to determining which municipality is better able to adapt the property to municipal use…the Petition for Annexation is granted.”

Back in June, the Jacksonville City Council unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the annexation, stating that the proposed annexation was “neither productive nor beneficial.”

The city’s planning commission joined in at its June meeting and voted to support the council’s resolution.

The city also expressed fear that a development spurt in the proposed annexed area could put the base in jeopardy of closing.

“We would never allow anything that would jeopardize the base, “ said Clayton.

Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon was ecstatic about the judge’s decision and said, “We wouldn’t be surprised if all of Arkansas wanted to come to Sherwood.”