Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

TOP STORY>>Golf course development put on hold again

Leader Staff Writer

Sewer, crime, sidewalks, green space, insanity and even fire ants were all voiced as reasons to delay plans to turn the North Hills Country Club into a 203-home subdivision.

Plus, Sherwood city engineer Mike Clayton’s announced resignation gave the planning commission the extra ammunition they needed to table any residential or commercial development of the golf course for at least a couple of months.

The commission unanimously agreed Tuesday to hold up any actions on the golf course until the city hires a new engineer or the city council agrees to hire an outside engineer to look at the proposed developments.

“I had no idea they would do that,” said Clayton who had tendered his resignation, effective Feb. 1, about a week ago. “I just wanted a change of scenery and a chance to do private consulting,” he explained. “It’s something I’ve thought about for awhile and the timing was right.”

Mayor Virginia Hillman said early Monday that the city would start advertising for a new city engineer next week but she had no timetable for hiring one.

A number of people in the packed chambers spoke against the plans to turn 92 acres of the 106-acre North Hills Country Club into a 203-home subdivision, but leading the charge was planning commissioner Wayne Smith.

First, he questioned the legality of the owners trying to develop the land without having all the covenants.

Then, his biggest concern was sewer capacity. Smith said a 12-inch line ran through the golf course and it was insufficient to hold what would be coming from 203 homes. “It’s not large enough to handle what we have now,” he said, “and I’ve got pictures of the manhole in my own backyard.”

Showing the pictures of a spewing manhole, Smith quipped, “Makes a beautiful fountain.”

He was adamant that the city should not have to pay to upgrade the sewers for this or any other developer.

Smith also had concerns about the roadways. He said Country Club was designed to handle 5,000 cars a day and the traffic count was already up to 16,000. “Likewise for Club Road,” he added.

Smith was also concerned about green space. With 203 homes there’ll be lots of kids playing in the streets because there is not a single park identified on the plan, he said.

Smith also wants any development to include sidewalks on both sides of the street.

Resident Linda Gunn submitted a letter to commissioners voiceing her objection over the residential plans as well as the request to rezone 14 acres to C-3 (general commercial).

She said any development would strain the sewer system, additional commercial development would bring more crime and how would the developers control the fire ants that have made the golf course their home, she wanted to know.

Ken Caplinger, another nearby resident said, he was a proponent for keeping the area a golf course. “I cherish my peace and will object to any changes in the area.”

Lucy Barnes, another resident, said the green space needs to remain a green space. We have an abundance of commercial property across the street from the golf course and an abundance or residential areas across the city,” she insisted.
Another resident asked the rhetorical question, “Who in their right mind would want to destroy green space just to make a few people rich?”

Biff Grant said the development plan had a lot of problems. “I’m going to get people to stop this thing.”

By tabling any action on the subdivision plan, the commissioners were compelled to table a public hearing on Club Properties’ request to rezone 14 acres of the golf course property bordering Highway 107 from R-1 (residential) and C-2 (shopping center) to C-3 (general commercial). The vote cut off any chance of any more of the 100-plus people from voicing their opinions at this time.

Commissioners agreed with Smith that the acreage needed to be considered as a whole and not in two parts since it is one tract of land. Smith also questioned whether Club Properties properly notified all the area residents.
The current owners of the golf course, Club Properties, led by James Rodgers, initially turned in plans for 174 homes for their North Hills Estate subdivision, but after a number of meetings with the city engineer and city planner Drew Pattison over concerns, the group submitted a new plan, this time for 203 homes.

“We needed to do something,” Rodgers explained back in December, “rather than just sit here.”

Since the building moratorium expired in October, there has been a lot of interest in the property. “We’ve got lots of interested parties, but no one has come forth, so we decided to go forward.”

Even with development plans turned in, Rodgers said, “We are still looking to sell the property, but if no one comes forward with a reasonable offer, then we’ll move forward.”

Sherwood has expressed interest in buying the property and maintaining it as a golf course or some form of green space, but Rodgers said there are currently “no active conversations with the city.”

The Sherwood City Council passed an ordinance late last year giving the city attorney permission to start negotiations to buy the golf course land.

At the time, Alderman Becki Vassar said, “The ordinance will allow our attorney to talk to the property owner’s attorney. It’s a communication tool. It’s to show that we are serious about this property and that it is far too valuable as a greenbelt in the heart of the city not to make a good-faith effort to buy the property.”

The value of the property has been a variable in the many proposed deals for the acreage. A city-funded feasibility study suggested that Sherwood buy the property for $1.5 million, while a city-funded appraisal puts the property at $2.22 million, the county’s tax appraisal of the property puts it at $3.1 million and before the building moratorium went into effect, there was a $5.1 million offer on the property by businessman Ray Campbell and his company.

Campbell had submitted plans to build a high-end gated community of 200 homes on the property. The homes would have sold in the $300,000 to $400,000 range.

The city’s moratorium thwarted Campbell’s efforts to finance the deal.

Club Properties has maintained that the city had no right to place restrictions on the property, prompting the group to file a lawsuit back in June. That suit is still pending.