Leader Blues

Friday, June 27, 2008

TOP STORY > >Sherwood turns down road plan

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

A major east-west corridor in Sherwood, Maryland Avenue, will not be completed anytime in the near future, and neither will Hemphill Road, a north-south road.

The city council Monday voted 5-3 against a proposal to give Cypress Properties the go ahead to build its portion of Maryland Avenue now in exchange for a moratorium on completing the Hemphill thoroughfare.

Alderman Marina Brooks suggested the compromise motion. Aldermen Butch Davis and Sheila Sulcer voted for it, while the rest of the council, Aldermen Becki Vassar, Charlie Harmon, David Henry, Keith Rankin and Steve Fender, said no.

“It is in the best interest of the city to open Maryland,” Mayor Virginia Hillman said at the council meeting. “We aren’t doing the developer any favors as we can’t make him open up any street that he’s not developing.”

She called the proposal a win-win for Sherwood.

Rankin said, “Sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the big picture. This proposal was not a win-win.”

“But now we have nothing,” Hillman said after the vote.

Cypress Properties, one of Sherwood’s largest landowners and the developer of Stonehill Subdivision, in meetings with Hillman earlier this year came up with a proposal that the company would spend about $400,000 of its own money to complete the portion of Maryland Avenue that runs through their property, and along 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 assurances 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 dead ends. 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.

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 Subdivision, Cypress Properties hasn’t started developing the sections containing Maryland or Hemphill, so hasn’t had to build either road.

In Brooks’ compromise motion, Hemphill would not be removed from the master street plan, but Cypress Properties would be excused from completing the road, if they completed Maryland Avenue within nine months.

But the idea did not set well with Vassar who came armed with planning commission and council meeting minutes dating back to 1998 showing where the developer had agreed to open both roads.

“In meetings galore, month after month, year after year,” Vassar said it was made clear that the developer was responsible for opening up both roadways. “I want Maryland opened, but it’s not fair to give in to this ultimatum,” Vassar said.

Harmon called the developer’s plan a “sweet deal” for the developer. “If we give this developer a pass are we going to give it to others too?” he asked.

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.”

The master street is not something the council just got together and decided on it 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,” Vassar said.

A number of Maryland Avenue residents spoke in favor of the idea of opening Maryland. Resident Gary Stroud said, I don’t understand the magic of Hemphill. It’s a small insignificant street. We will have more opportunities with Maryland opened.”

Resident Jeff Stewart asked the council, “Why is it necessary to open Hemphill when the people don’t want it? I’d like to hear a logical reason. There are other alternatives.” Stewart said the council was foolish to force the road to be built on principle.

“Do you want us to give all the developers passes?” Vassar responded. Harmon added, “We must have both the east-west connection and the north-south.”

“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.

But the city has no requirement to force developers to build in sequence and the phase changes Cypress Properties asked for had been approved by the city at either the planning commission or council level, or both.

In other council business:

Aldermen approved five new positions in the public works department and two in the wastewater department. It will cost the city about $86,000 to fill the newly created positions this year.

The council affirmed the planning commission’s approval to rezone a lot cornered by Ash, Kiehl and Elmwood from R-1 (single-family homes) to R-2 (duplexes and other multi-family structures) Plans call for duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes to be built on the acreage. A total of 25 units, the maximum allowed, are planned.