Leader Blues

Monday, June 04, 2007

TOP STORY >>Sherwood wins case, gets land

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon is ecstatic, while Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim is mulling over options after both got the news that a judge ruled that nearly 2,000 acres of undeveloped land could become part of Sherwood. “The developers wanted to be in our city and we wanted them to be in the city and now they will,” said Harmon.

The mayor said the city council would adopt an ordinance at their next council meeting that is identical to what Jacksonville has regarding the portion of the land that is in the Air Force’s flight path. “We are just as interested in doing the right thing with the Air Force as Jacksonville has been.”

Mayor Swaim said, “It’s a disappointment to us. We did the things we needed to do to show that the land shouldn’t be annexed by Sherwood, but the judge ruled against us.”

The mayor added that Jacksonville had spent a lot of time, money and effort in preparing that area for the city’s future growth. The two sides met in court Wednesday and Circuit Court Judge Collins Kilgore had his decision made by Thursday afternoon.

In a letter sent to all the parties, Judge Kilgore wrote, “I am finding for the defendants (Sherwood) in this case.” The judge then asked the attorneys for Sherwood, Stephen Giles and City Attorney Steve Cobb, to prepare the order and include “Findings of fact and conclusions of law along with a statement of the case and citations to controlling authority.”
Jacksonville City Attorney Robert Bamburg explained that once the order is prepared and both sides have reviewed it and the judge has signed it, then Jacksonville would have 30 days to appeal the case.

“We’ll look at everything in the order, and then it’ll be up to the mayor and council,” Bamburg explained.

Both cities have been at odds over the 1,950 acres of land that lies basically north of Sherwood and west of Jacksonville, running up to and along part of Little Rock Air Force Base ever since the four owners of the acreage petitioned to be annexed into the city of Sherwood.

The Sherwood city council approved the annexation, but because the land was county land, the annexation needed the approval of the Pulaski County Quorum Court judge. Jacksonville voiced its objections to Judge Buddy Villines. When Villines ruled in favor of Sherwood in August 2006, Jacksonville appealed and the case was sent to Pulaski County Circuit Court.
The four owners of the acreage—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. The landowners testified Wednesday in circuit court that they felt Sherwood was the better deal for them and that their land would be more valuable as part of Sherwood as opposed to being part of Jacksonville.

Villines said in his 2006 order that the only reason that Sherwood could refuse the annexation was if it were “unable to provide services to the annexed area.”

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

Harmon recently said that Sherwood has about $2 million saved up to help provide water and other utilities to the area. Jacksonville argued in court that the land was better served as part of Jacksonville, and that the city had utilities already in that area. Jacksonville had plans to build a water tower on the 600-plus acres owned by Metropolitan Realty.

Bamburg argued that Little Rock Air Force Base’s aircraft safety-flight zone extended into part of the area proposed for annexation and that Jacksonville had a working relationship with the base and already had ordinances protecting that area from excessive development as requested by the Air Force. Jacksonville also felt that the Bayou Meto, which runs through the area, provided a natural boundary line between the two cities.

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.