Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

TOP STORY >>Gravel Ridge has a slight window to incorporate

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

As Jacksonville and Sherwood both attempt to annex Gravel Ridge into their city limits, the unincorporated area’s only hope of staying independent of either one is to incorporate on its own, Don Zimmerman, executive director of the Municipal League, said.

Because Gravel Ridge falls into Jacksonville’s five-mile planning jurisdiction, he explained, Gravel Ridge would need to get permission from Jacksonville, in the form of a resolution, that it has no objections to having another city that close.

“They would have to go to Jacksonville and get the resolution passed before they could proceed with incorporating,”
Zimmerman said, adding, “If they don’t have that resolution, the county judge won’t approve it.”

But with Jacksonville trying to annex the 2,400-acre area, Zimmerman believes receiving the city’s blessing is not likely.
Gravel Ridge would not need Sherwood’s permission, as it doesn’t fall within Sherwood’s planning jurisdiction, but rather Pulaski County’s.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said Gravel Ridge could ask, but he didn’t know what the city council’s opinion would be. “I can’t speculate on what the council would do. If they had of came six months to one year ago…it’s all speculation,” he said.
Jacksonville City Attorney Robert Bamburg told Swaim that until annexation elections are held, Gravel Ridge couldn’t apply to incorporate.

Currently, Jacksonville extends out Jacksonville Cut-Off to about the Bayou Meto bridge, about 1.5 miles from the intersection of Hwy. 107 and Jacksonville Cut-Off. Sherwood’s city limits stop on Hwy. 107, about a half-mile south of that intersection and just south of Kellogg Creek.

The area set for annexation includes the bulk of Gravel Ridge, going beyond Ison Road on the west, most of Hatcher Road on the north, about a mile east of Gibson Road, and just north of Ascot Drive on the south.

Jacksonville’s election to decide the annexation issue is Feb.5, piggybacking on the state’s presidential primary election. Both Jacksonville and Gravel Ridge residents will have the opportunity to vote in that election.

Sherwood’s election to bring the area into its city is set for March 11. The residents of Sherwood and Gravel Ridge will vote in that election.

According to the Pulaski County Clerk’s Office there are 16,932 registered voters in Jacksonville, 15,164 in Sherwood and 3,721 in the four precincts that cover the Gravel Ridge area.

If both elections approve the annexation, then a tie-breaker election will be scheduled for just Gravel Ridge voters to decide if they want to become part of Jacksonville or Sherwood.

What would Jacksonville or Sherwood gain by annexing the Gravel Ridge area? Land and population.

Both cities are running out of affordable or usable land for housing and commercial developments. Gravel Ridge would instantly increase the population of either city by about 8 percent with its roughly 4,000 residents.

Annexation also brings in a tax base of homes and more than two-dozen businesses. That tax base could help Jacksonville bolster its efforts for its own separate school district.

Besides available land for development, the proposed route for the North Belt freeway goes through a portion of Gravel Ridge, and at least one off-ramp, near Kellogg Valley, will exit into Gravel Ridge, opening that area up to additional development.

Gravel Ridge will be the second piece of acreage that Jacksonville and Sherwood are in competition for.

The first area is 2,000 acres of undeveloped land north of Sherwood and west of Jacksonville.

Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines and a lower court have approved Sherwood’s annexing that area, but Jacksonville has appealed to the state Supreme Court. The case may not be settled until after the Gravel Ridge issue is resolved.

If Sherwood ends up with both annexations, its city limits will stretch at least seven miles in a south-north direction, from exit 3 off Hwy. 67/167 to the northwestern edge of Little Rock Air Force Base, effectively blocking any westerly expansion of Jacksonville.