Leader Blues

Monday, August 07, 2006

TOP STORY >> Builder makes plans for Sherwood land

IN SHORT: Jacksonville loses its bid to stop the annexation of 2,000 acres of undeveloped
land to its southern neighbor, as contractor submits plat to develop a commercial strip.

Leader staff writer

Construction will soon start on land now that Sherwood has been given the green light to annex .

Four landowners who filed a petition two months ago to have their acreage become part of Sherwood have received the blessing of the county judge, and one of the landowners has already filed plans with Sherwood to start work on a light commercial development.

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

Greg Heslep, one of the four property owners, has filed a preliminary plat with Sherwood to construct offices or storage buildings on a portion of his land, confident that his county land would end up in Sherwood.

Jacksonville opposed the an-nexation and appealed to County Judge Buddy Villines who had to release the land from the county, so it could become part of Sherwood.

In June, Villines ordered Sherwood and Jacksonville to present written arguments as to why the annexation should or should not be granted. The briefs were due by July 15.

In his order released Friday, Judge Villines said, “The court is not persuaded that extraterritorial planning jurisdiction precludes annex-ation….the petition for annexation is granted.”

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.”

All that is left to do to bring the land officially into Sherwood is for the city to approve an ordinance or resolution accepting the petition. But the city must first wait 30 days to see if anyone appeals the decision.

“It certainly won’t be the landowners,” Harmon said.

Once that time period expires, Harmon said he’d properly call a special meeting to approve the annexation.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim was out of town due to a death in the family so it’s not known at this time if Jacksonville will appeal.

Villines went on to say in his order that the only reason that Sherwood could refuse the annexation is if it was “unable to provide services to the annexed area.”

“Don’t worry, “Harmon said. “We’ll provide service.”

Jacksonville had argued that a portion of the land the developers wanted to annex into Sherwood was part of the air base flight-safety zone, officially known as Air Installation Compatible Use Zone, or AICUZ.

The military had asked Jackson-ville, and the city agreed in two ordinances, to restrict the population, as well as height of buildings in that zone for safety of aircrews and the civilian population. Excessive populations and development immediately off military runways is something that is looked at negatively when decisions are made to keep a base open.

In June, the 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.

In its briefs, the city argued that it didn’t make sense for the land to be part of Sherwood, when Jacksonville would still have planning control of a portion of the land. The city also ex-pressed fear that a development spurt could put the base in jeopardy of closing.

“We would never allow anything that would jeopardize the base, “ said Mike Clayton, Sherwood’s city engineer.

Jacksonville also argued that the annexation would create a disconnected island, as the area to be annexed surrounds a subdivision around Hatcher Road. That subdivision is not part of the annexation and would be county land and in case of emergency, those residents would have to call the county for service. The judge ruled, “The creation of an island is not grounds to void an annexation.”

Clayton added that he hoped the people would eventually petition to be part off Sherwood too.

Jacksonville also argued that the land would be better serviced by Jacksonville.

Thea Hughes, general manager of Jacksonville Wastewater Utility, said the city’s sewer commission also opposed the annexation, citing Jack-sonville’s master plan and a 20-year study, saying the city had the capability to service the disputed area. “The territorial jurisdiction east and north of Bayou Meto is appropriate to the city of Jacksonville,” she said.

Villines, in his order, said the court “does not believe its discretion extends to determining which municipality is better able to adapt the property to municipal use.”

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim had said earlier in the litigation that he wasn’t totally opposed to the annexation plan supported by Sherwood, but there was a portion that needed to go to Jacksonville. “The area past Bayou Meto should go into Jacksonville,” he said.

According to Clayton, there’s two ways to annex into a city, through voluntary or involuntary means.

These four developers—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.

Both Heslep and McKimmey have had an easier time getting developments approved by Sherwood than Jacksonville. It took Heslep about six months of rework and redesign, including a promise to create a sewer improvement district and run a main sewer line to the city’s line more than a mile away, before Jacksonville ap-proved his plans for the Base Meadows Subdivision, which is now part of Jacksonville.

McKimmey, who owns a 10-acre triangular piece of land south of Dupree Park, has, along with James Reed, worked almost three years with Jacksonville to get approval for a go-cart track on that property.

“The petition met all the state requirements,” Clayton said. The county judge agreed.