Leader Blues

Friday, June 13, 2008

TOP STORY > >Fight over extending Sherwood street

Leader staff writer

It sounds simple—complete one street and in exchange don’t require the completion of another street.

But that request from Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman has turned out to be very muddied and complicated, legally, historically and politically.

Cypress Properties, one of Sherwood’s largest landowners and the developer of Stonehill Subdivision, came to the mayor earlier this year with a proposal that it would spend about $400,000 of its own money to complete the portion of Maryland Avenue that runs through its property, and then with a small portion the city planned to complete, Maryland Avenue would become a complete east-west thoroughfare connecting Brockington Road and Hwy. 107.

In exchange, the developer wanted assurance from the city that he would not have to build and open up the remainder of Hemphill Road. Hemphill runs north-south, from Kiehl Avenue, but then coming to a dead end. The city’s master street plan shows the road eventually extending to Maryland Avenue.

To guarantee that Cypress Properties would not have to build the rest of Hemphill Road, Andy Collins, chairman of the board for the company, asked that the remainder of the planned road be removed from the city’s master street plan.

Cypress has made the request, according to Collins, on behalf of Stonehill residents and those on Hemphill who feel it is best not to make the road a through street.

Scotty Thurman, director of real estate for Cypress, said, “Once Maryland is complete, the rush hour congestion will be immediately and substantially alleviated.

There would be no purpose whatsoever to extend Hemphill because it would become a commuter speedway through a secluded and peaceful neighborhood.”

Thurman added, “We respect the master street plan but it can and should be modified to fit changing realities.”

But in May, the city council didn’t see eye-to-eye with the mayor or the developer and suggested that the developer open Maryland Avenue on his own with the only guarantee that the council would listen to his request to remove Hemphill from the master street plan after Maryland was completed and the city studied the traffic flow.

“It is in the best interest of the city to open Maryland,” the mayor explained.

“We aren’t doing the developer any favors as we can’t make him open up any street that he’s not developing. At this point we have nothing,” Hillman said.

Scotty Thurman, the former Razorback representing Cypress Properties, said the issue has become misconstrued as an ultimatum.

“We are just trying to work with the city to benefit the residents of Sherwood. It’s not about what Scotty thinks, or Andy (Collins) thinks or what the mayor thinks, it’s what the people think,” Thurman said.

He added that at the council and commission meetings all the residents have spoken for the idea. “The council should listen to the people speaking out,” he said.

Alderman Becki Vassar, the senior member of the council, said, “There’s not an alderman or city leader that doesn’t want Maryland Avenue opened, but this is not the way to do it.”

The master street plan is not something the council just got together and decided on one day, explained Vassar.

She said it was a joint effort by the city, Metroplan and the Municipal League. “

The master street plan is a well-studied document. It took a long time to prepare and looks 20 to 30 years down the road,” she said.

“It’s not something to be taken lightly,” she said.“Even the state highway department showed respect for it.”

The highway department’s first planned route for the North Belt segment going through Sherwood butted heads with the city’s master street plan and rather than the city changing its street plan, the state has had to spend years revising their I-440 route.

“If the state moves the North Belt in respect of our master street plan, I think a developer should too,” Vassar said.

Collins responded, “I have a great deal of respect for Vassar’s years of public service. However, I was close enough to the North Belt issue to know with certainty that there were many other motives besides the respect for the city’s street plan for diverting the loop away from the heart of Sherwood.”

Collins continued, “The master street plan is a document which must and will change as Sherwood’s borders, population and other characteristics change,” he said, adding that 700 acres of Cypress acreage near the air base was recently annexed into the city and will have to be added to the master street plan.

According to city ordinances, a developer doesn’t have to build a subdivision street until that section is developed, and in the case of Stonehill, Cypress Properties hasn’t started developing the sections containing Maryland or Hemphill, so hasn’t had to build either road.

“I don’t want to make any developer mad, but maybe we’ve been too nice, letting them build out of sequence,” Vassar said.

If Cypress Properties had built the Stonehill phases in order, Vassar, believes both roads would have already been built.

She added that developers know what they are required to do when they come before the city’s planning commission.

“The developer knew years ago when the subdivision was approved that he was required to build the roads,” Vassar explained, and has the minutes from the meetings where representatives for Cypress Properties agreed to build both roads.

“I’m not trying to be hard- hearted,” Vassar said. “But I have a hard time taking a street off the master plan and saying that it will never have to be built. It’s on that map for a reason.

“I have a problem with the developer wanting to change the rules after the T’s have been crossed and I’s dotted,” she said.
Vassar continued, “I have a problem with this developer not wanting to follow the rules and follow through with the commitment he made.”

The developer, based on city ordinances, doesn’t have to build either road yet and in fact can sit on the property indefinitely.

“I don’t think that would be fair to the residents of Sherwood,” Vassar said.

Collins responded by saying that Cypress has always followed what Sherwood wanted. “I respectfully disagree with Vassar’s mischaracterization of the facts.

“I’m a retired tax attorney and not the all-knowing developer Vassar paints Cypress to be. We rely on our engineers who design the subdivision and work with the city. The final say is Sherwood’s, not ours. We do what we are told. We developed all phases of Stonehill pursuant to Sherwood’s guidance and directives and to say otherwise is inaccurate,” Collins said.