Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

TOP STORY >>Gravel Ridge has doubts on being annexed

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

Several Gravel Ridge business owners don’t like the possibility of being annexed into the Jacksonville city limits in a special election on Feb. 5.

Sherwood officials aren’t too crazy about the idea, either, and will hold a March annexation referendum. Gravel Ridge residents would have the final say on which city they want to join, with Sherwood apparently enjoying an edge.

According to Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman, the Sherwood City Council will discuss annexing the area during the next council meeting on Dec. 17.

Hillman said a March special election has already been scheduled.

Hillman says that the results of Jacksonville’s vote would be put on hold until Sherwood’s election, and if both cities approve the annexation, then Gravel Ridge residents would vote to determine where the area would go.

“Sherwood has amenities that would be attractive to them (Gravel Ridge) and we would serve them well,” Hillman said.
Jacksonvillle Mayor Tommy Swaim feels the same way about his city.

“There are things we can offer,” the mayor said.

But he still has some convincing to do.

“I don’t really care to be part of Jacksonville,” Ronald Wallace, owner of Gravel Ridge Small Engine on 7900 Jacksonville Cut-off, said.

“I’d just be paying more taxes, and I have police protection right across the street (with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office substation),” Wallace added.

Fellow business owner Scott Helmbeck of Helmbeck Brothers Body Shop echoed Wallace’s sentiments.

“I kind of like it the way it is now and would prefer it remain the same,” said Helmbeck, who opened his business at 14717 Hwy. 107 in 1997. “If it’s going to happen, I’d prefer it be to Sherwood,” he added.

If voters in Jacksonville and Gravel Ridge approve the annexation, 2,500 acres of the unincorporated Gravel Ridge area will become part of Jacksonville 30 days later. But Sherwood’s annexation moves would probably put those plans on hold.

Swaim said he didn’t blame business owners for not wanting to be annexed into Jacksonville but Gravel Ridge will eventually end up as part of some municipality if it stays unincorporated.

“I don’t expect everyone in business in that area to want to be part of any municipality,” Swaim added.

According to the ordinance passed by the Jacksonville City Council last week, if the annexation is approved, the city would take over police protection of the area from Pulaski County immediately and would immediately coordinate and supplement fire protection with the volunteer fire department in Gravel Ridge.

Sewer services already in the area would immediately be brought under Jacksonville’s control. The city already provides a portion of the area with sewer and other utility services.

Jacksonville would pick up the sanitation service within six months of the election.

Sherwood annexed an area of 2,000 acres just north of Gravel Ridge last year. Jacksonville tried to stop that annexation at the county level and lost, then appealed to circuit court and lost. That annexation issue is now before the state Supreme Court; a decision is expected early next year.

Swaim said the idea to annex Gravel Ridge, a natural growth area for the city, into Jacksonville had been discussed for many years, but the timing hadn’t been right.

“At this point, with reasonable growth in the west, it’s important to work with the people of Gravel Ridge to annex them in,” he explained.

“The big advantage for us is to be involved in the growth of the area,” Swaim added.

The general area sought for annexation into Jacksonville, according to City Administrator Jay Whisker, runs from the western city limits to west of Highway 107, south of Kellogg Creek and north to Bayou Meto.

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 ever since the four owners of the acreage petitioned to be annexed into the city of Sherwood in 2006.

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 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 Villines. When Villines ruled in favor of Sherwood in August 2006, Jacksonville appealed and the case was sent to Pulaski County Circuit Court.

The circuit court also ruled in favor of Sherwood. Jacksonville has appealed the decision to the state supreme court.
A decision is expected early next year.