Leader Blues

Monday, July 23, 2007

TOP STORY >>Panel: City needs course

Leader staff writer

“At all cost, we should not let this property be developed as anything but a golf course or a park,” said Steve Winchester, chairing what the Sherwood mayor called a blue-ribbon committee appointed to see if the city should proceed with the purchase of North Hills Country Club.

“At all cost is a big statement, but this is a valuable piece of property to the city,” he said.

But before Winchester or any of the other five of the committee gave their opinions at the committee meeting Thursday night at the recreation center, City Attorney Steve Cobb had to assure them that they would not be sued.

Committee member Byron McKimmey voiced his concern, saying the golf course owners have already sued everyone who wants to keep the property as a golf course.

Cobb, via speakerphone, told the committee members and other residents at the meeting that the committee was just an advisory group and could not be sued. “You are a group of citizens who have a history with the city and are being asked for your opinion. You are acting in an advisory capacity with no binding authority and cannot be sued,” he assured the group.
Cobb made the comments to the committee as he was preparing the city’s answer, due Monday, in a lawsuit by the golf course owners asking that the council-approved moratorium on developing the property be lifted.

The committee decided unanimously that the mayor and council should proceed with purchasing the 105-acre golf course, and will make the recommendation at the city council meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at city hall.

“What to do next will be the decision of the next mayor,” said interim Mayor Bill Harmon.

Harmon is in a run-off for the position with City Clerk Virginia Hillman. Early voting has already started and the election date is July 31. Harmon is a proponent of keeping the golf course, while Hillman would rather take it to a vote of the residents.
Committee member Sherry Rankin, mother of Alderman Ken Rankin, said she has received 111 phone calls about the issue and only one was against the city buying the course.

“It is such an asset and so beautiful,” she said.

Rankin said she didn’t take names of the callers, just whether they were for or against keeping the property and why.
On July 6, proponent Greg Meadors sent out an e-mail to more than 50 Sherwood residents telling them to call the committee members.

“Please contact any of the committee members that you know and let him know we need to save this valuable green space for all of Sherwood,” he said in the e-mail.

Meadors also provided the names and addresses of committee members and the phone number of Judge Milas Hale because “he has received several negative calls and we need to respond now.”

Hale had to resign from the committee because of family health issues.

Committee member Sandy Baker said, “I think we should absolutely try to keep this as a public golf course. We owe it to our citizens, our children and grandchildren.”

Carroll Woolverton, another committee member, said that the Sylvan Hills High School golf coach has told him without the course the team would have no place nearby to practice.

“We need to develop it into a public golf course and park. Something that will accommodate all the people of Sherwood,” Woolverton said.

Committee member Mc-Kimmey, who just had a large tract of land annexed into the city, said he was surprised that everyone “came here with their minds made up. I thought we would discuss the feasibility study and appraisal.”

Each committee member was given a copy of the feasibility study and appraisal. The feasibility study concluded that the property could be viable as a city-owned public golf course if the city could purchase the property for about $1.5 million.
The appraisal determined that the property was worth about $2.2 million, and the owners sued the city and each alderman for placing a building moratorium on the property, causing a $5.1 million offer to fall through.

Committee member J.D. Pride, who has lived in Sherwood since 1958 and was a North Hills Country Club member for 15 years, said, “I think we should pursue it. Look around, Benton, Pine Bluff and Conway all have a public golf course.”

Winchester added that if Sherwood let the property be developed the city would still have to spend just as much money on infrastructure as it would buying and maintaining the property as a golf course.

Winchester said the purpose of the meeting is to answer the question: Should Sherwood consider purchasing this property (North Hills Country Club) and utilize the green space as a public golf facility, park, swimming pool and meeting place? “It is clear that our answer is yes,” he said.