Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

TOP STORY >>Gravel Ridge up for grabs

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Jacksonville and Sherwood officials have set special election dates a month apart as they compete to annex Gravel Ridge. Monday’s Sherwood City Council meeting set March 11 for the Gravel Ridge annexation vote.

That election is a little more than a month after the scheduled Jacksonville election to bring Gravel Ridge into that city.

Jacksonville will vote on the annexation of the 2,500-acre unincorporated community of about 3,200 residents on Feb. 5, the date of the state’s presidential primary election.

Sherwood Alderman Becki Vassar pointed out the annexation is in the “best interest of the city.”

“It’s a good match and good for the citizens. We will all work together to accomplish this,” Vassar said.

Jacksonville Alderman Gary Fletcher, unhappy about the fight between Jacksonville and Sherwood, told the Sherwood council, “Back when the air base was built, it was not for the benefit of Jacksonville, but for all the communities, including Sherwood and Cabot. We’ve had a long history of working together.”

“You know I do a lot of work in Sherwood during the day and I’m considered a friend, but when I put on this suit and attended this meeting, I was the enemy. We are all one community and have always worked things out. This annexation issue will be resolved in about six months, but will there still be a we-versus-them attitude?” Fletcher lamented.

Former Sherwood Alderman Tom Brooks has offered to head a committee of citizens to raise funds to walk door-to-door through Gravel Ridge garnering support for that community to become part of Sherwood.

He even volunteered to contribute $1,000 to the cause.

Brooks, in making his announcement to form the citizens committee, said he was willing to spend the time and manpower to bring Gravel Ridge into Sherwood.

“I’ve covered a lot of ground in Gravel Ridge during the past week, and I could find no business or individual who wanted Jacksonville as their first choice,” Brooks said.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman quickly pointed out that residents could do what they wanted, but that the city couldn’t get involved in any of the campaigning.

According to county election officials in Jacksonville’s annexation vote, residents of Jacksonville and those in Gravel Ridge will vote. If the annexation into Jacksonville is approved, the annexation will be put on hold because of the Sherwood election.

If the annexation into Sherwood is approved, then that annexation will also be put on hold, and a separate election will be scheduled for just Gravel Ridge residents, asking if they want to be part of Jacksonville or Sherwood.

If the vote is no in either of the first two elections, then the third vote will be unnecessary.

The two cities are also at odds over 2,000 acres of land north of Gravel Ridge. The mostly undeveloped acreage was annexed by Sherwood 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.