Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

TOP STORY >> Commission says no to apartments, yes to library

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

A church issue took up most of the time at Jacksonville’s Planning Commission on Monday night; while the site plan for the library was approved in short order. Hope Lutheran Church, looking to sell some of the property behind its facility at 1904 McArthur Drive, asked the Jacksonville Planning Commission to rezone about 43,000 square feet of its property from (R-1) single-family homes to (R-3) multi-family residences.

After listening to concerned residents, receiving a petition against the rezoning and having doubts itself, the commission denied the request at its meeting Monday night at city hall. Commissioner John Herbold, who made the motion to deny the request, said, “Policy says we will protect homeowners. If we vote for this we are going against our own policy.”

A resident, who lives close to the church, told the commission that it just didn’t look like there was enough space for apartments. “And besides, we have an overabundance of apartments in Jacksonville already. We would just like to keep our neighborhood the way it is,” the resident said. Herbold agreed that the city has an excessive amount of rentals. “A chamber of commerce presentation showed that more than 50 percent of our housing was rental property. That seemed a bit much to me, so I did some checking on the Internet and the sources I found said 48 percent—about the same.”

“Some might say the base is the cause but when I checked with other cities with bases it just isn’t true. In Bossier City, which is home to Barksdale AFB, 37 percent of the residences are rentals and its 36 percent in Oklahoma City, home to Tinker AFB,” Herbold said. Resident Raymond Ellis told the commission he was concerned with flooding and high water at his house and area streets. “Apartments will only make it worse,” he said. Jay Whisker, who has been retained in his position of city engineer until a new one has been hired, told the commission that there is a drainage problem in the area. “Both the city and the church have worked on it,” he said.

Before the vote, Commissioner Mark Stroud, added that he thought this would be spot rezoning and a bad precedent to start in an established neighborhood. John Loyd, representing the church, said the church wanted to sell the property and that a multi-family zoning would make the land more attractive to developers. He felt the small number of apartments that could go in would not be detrimental to the neighborhood.

All the commissioners, but one, voted to deny the rezoning. Commissioner Bart Gray abstained as his realty company is involved in the sale and development of the acreage. The commission approved the site plan for the new library just east of Walgreen’s on Main Street. Whisker said the city council, at its meeting Thursday, will set a public hearing for March 1 to close an abandoned alleyway on the property, allowing plans to continue to move forward.

Construction on the $2.5 million project should start in early summer. Plans call for a 13,500-square-foot expandable facility complete with a meeting room that can be used after hours. Landscaping will give the land a park-like look. “About the only thing not settled yet,” said Bobby Roberts, director of the Central Arkansas Library System, “is the exact location and design of a gazebo.” The gazebo and other outside amenities will be used for weddings and other downtown gatherings.
In other commission business:

•Commissioners accepted a sketch plat of Porter’s Subdivision, an eight-lot subdivision, on North First Street, with the suggestion that the developer run an alleyway behind the planned homes for residents to use to prevent traffic problems on North First.

•Commissioners also accepted the 2006 report of commission activities, which included two annexations, Lost Creek Subdivision, on the north side of General Samuels road, west of North Pulaski High School, and Stoneridge Subdivision, a 450-lot development, on the north and south sides of Jacksonville Cut-off, just east of Westpointe Drive.