Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TOP STORY > >A big payday for Sherwood: $660,000 check

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

With a unanimous vote Monday night Sherwood became $660,000 richer.

As soon as the city council approved an ordinance putting an end to the lawsuit between Sherwood and North Little Rock over who could provide Sherwood with electricity, city attorney Stephen Cobb presented the council with a $660,000 check from North Little Rock as part of the settlement.

“This has been a long ordeal,” said Alderman Becki Vassar, “and I’m delighted we have the opportunity tonight to settle it.”

Mayor Virginia Hillman agreed, “It’s been a long time coming. I’m glad to see an end to this.”

And just to make sure, Cobb reported that 10 minutes after Sherwood had approved the ordinance, North Little Rock did the same at its council meeting.

“Good thing,” Vassar quipped, “because we’re not giving the check back.”

The 19-page agreement be-tween the two cities states that North Little Rock would return franchise fees–$660,000—it had been holding for more than a year, and in return, North Little Rock would remain Sherwood’s main provider of electricity through July 1, 2015. At that time, Sherwood can choose what entity or utility it wants as its electric provider.

The settlement caps a lawsuit initiated more than five years ago when Sherwood decided to let First Electric be the electric provider to a new subdivision because the city felt First Electric offered better service and at the time substantially lower rates.

The rates between First Electric and North Little are now very similar.

North Little Rock in the suit claimed that since it had provided Sherwood with electricity for more than 60 years and had “expended substantial sums of money” to construct infrastructure and maintain facilities that it had a contract with Sherwood.

Sherwood agreed that North Little Rock had been the longtime provider, but since there was no written agreement between the two cities, Sherwood could shop elsewhere for electricity.

The lawsuit went to Pulaski County Court and in an order the judge declared that even though Sherwood could ask another entity to provide electricity it broke a contract with North Little Rock.

The broken contract meant Sherwood was on the hook for more than $2 million in franchise fees it would have had to return to North Little Rock.

But the order left a lot unclear for both cities and rather than appeal the decision both cities decided to work out an agreement.

In other council business:

The council took no action on an ordinance that allows Cypress Properties to construct their portion of Maryland Avenue in lieu of receiving at least a seven-year hiatus from building their portion of Hemphill Road.

“At our last council meeting,” the city attorney explained, “the council wanted more negotiations and communication between the city and the developer. We communicated a little, but then it went cold.”

Cobb continued, “We left the ordinance on the agenda in hopes that there would be some last minute communication to allow us to move forward. There wasn’t, so no action will be taken.”

The ordinance was an effort on the mayor’s part to try and complete Maryland Avenue to give the city another east-west corridor. But council members have felt that the developer should not be excused from completing Hemphill Road to give the city another north-south corridor. The mayor’s position is that the Maryland Avenue connection is more viable and important at this time.

The developer, according to city ordinances doesn’t have to complete either roadway until he starts to develop in those areas.

With a number of unsold lots in Sherwood, the developer has no current plans to develop the Maryland Avenue or Hemphill Road areas.

The council approved the first reading of an ordinance amending the city’s land use map, an ordinance amending the city’s master street plan and an ordinance amending the city’s zoning map to include future development in Gravel Ridge.

It takes three readings and subsequent approvals for an ordinance to become law. By only reading these ordinances once, the council gave residents another 30 days to give their input.

The maps are on display in city hall and should also be available for view on the city’s web site.

Aldermen approved resolutions condemning an abandoned mobile home at lot 355 of the Sunwood Mobile Home Court in the 300 block of Cherrie Avenue and a fire-damaged home at 10618 Rockbrook Drive. Both properties were declared a public nuisance and owners have 30 to bring the property into code or tear down or remove the structures.

The council also approved removal of Indianhead Cove from the city’s master street plan. City officials were surprised to discover that the parking lot of the apartments next to the Indianhead Baptist Church was actually earmarked to be a street.

This came to light during a potential sale of the property.

“It’s never been a street,” the city attorney said. “It’s a parking lot and will probably never be a street. There a building right there that the street would run into.”

The council voted to vacate its rights to the property and forgo any street designation in efforts to clear up the matter for the owners and potential buyers.

Alderman Marina Brooks announced that the city’s annual veteran’s memorial day event would be at 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 9 at the memorial at Sherwood Forest. Activities will include a reading of names of veterans on the bricks of the memorial, a Civil War reenactment, an honor guard and a possible C-130 flyover. There is no charge to attend the event.

Also on Friday the city will sponsor a Halloween carnival from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Sherwood Forest.