Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

FRONT PAGE STORY>>Council still votes to allow rezoning

Leader staff writer

Commercial development will continue for now on Main Street in Cabot west of Highway 67-167 over the objections of residents in that area who say traffic is becoming unbearable. The Cabot City Council voted 6-2 Monday night in favor of a commercial rezoning that will allow Crye-Leike, a real estate company, to locate there on 1.3 acres adjacent to Stephen Blackwood’s real estate office.

Five of the city’s eight council members are not running for reelection, and two of the three who are running have opposition. So it is conceivable that the council’s position could change in January with potentially seven new members on board. Aldermen Jerry Stephens and David Polantz voted against the rezoning which was part of an 11-acre rezoning request the council turned down earlier this year. Polantz said the rule against applying for a rezone more than once in a 12-month period should have been upheld. Stephens said the council should consider a moratorium on all commercial development in the area until traffic issues are addressed.

“It should not have come before us until the year is passed,” Polantz said. Stephens told the council he was concerned that continued commercial development will make it difficult for residents to get to work in the morning and back home in the afternoon.

But Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh said commercial development is crucial to the city’s stability. Without commercial tax revenue, the city will never be able to pay its fire fighters and police officers enough to keep them, the mayor said. Cabot will be nothing but a training ground.

“If we start putting a moratorium on commercial building, you’re going to see this town dry up and blow away,” he said.
Bill Staggs, who lives in the area that was rezoned said the council is opening the door for more commercial rezoning of the 11 acres it refused to rezone in February.

“You’re just going to domino one acre into another and before long you’re back to where we started,” Staggs said. Mike Smith, owner of the property, said he would eventually ask for more to be rezoned commercial because commercial is the “highest and best use.”

“We tried to bring it in as a controlled development of the whole 11 acres but that didn’t seem to work,” he said, calling attention to what was apparent to both the council and the residents, that by turning down the controlled development, the city left him with no option except to develop piecemeal.

In other business, the council approved borrowing up to $355,000 from Community Bank to furnish the new community center which is supposed to open in two weeks. Alderman David Polantz voted against the resolution approving the loan, saying that instead of applying for the loan online with every bank in town, the city should have advertised for bids in a newspaper as it does for other services.

City Clerk Marva Verkler said the city always advertises for banking services by contacting all the local banks. City Attorney Clint McGue said there was no state law that required bidding banking services. Polantz appeared incredulous at the mayor’s assertion that he was trying to delay the opening of the community center, scheduled for Nov. 1.

“I’m not trying to stall the opening. Is that what you just said?” he asked. “That’s exactly what you’re going to do,” Stumbaugh answered. Jim Towe, the city’s director of public works, said in a later interview, that barring unforeseen problems like heavy rain that would slow the paving of the parking lot, the community center will be completed by Nov. 1. However, the furnishing that will be purchased with the loan the council approved can’t be moved in until after the building is completed.

Carroll Astin, parks director, never intended to have the building ready to open until Nov. 15, Towe said. The council also approved the low bid of $31,905.70 from Lasiter Construction, Inc., of Little Rock, to pave the parking lot at the new animal shelter.

After a disagreement with other council members about whether the city could pay for a sidewalk linking the new community center to the senior citizens’ center with money borrowed to furnish the community center, Polantz pulled his resolution asking the mayor to supply the council with an estimated cost of laying the sidewalk.

Polantz said since the loan would be for $355,000 and Astin thinks the cost of furnishings will be $260,000, there would be enough to pay the estimated $13,000 for the sidewalks. Other council members and the city attorney said sidewalks fell outside the parameter of the resolution for the loan.

The council also approved paying $18,150 for three handheld radios and two mobile radios and $60,000 for 10 cameras for the police department.