Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

TOP STORY > >Developers push ideas for bypass

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

A group of developers asked the Sherwood City Council on Monday night to take the North Belt Loop off the city’s master street plan so they could proceed with their development plans.

But City Planner Dwight Pattison said if the city was to do that it would be an indication to the state Highway Department that Sherwood was not interested in the bypass and could put financing for the project in limbo. The 12.7-mile project will cost an estimated $347 million.

Of that, $320 million would be for construction, $14.8 million for right of way, $10.9 million for utilities and $1 million for relocation costs.

Developers insisted that they have been in limbo for almost two years and want cannot afford to leave their property undeveloped.

No action was taken on the master street plan Monday night, but some action will have to be taken at the December meeting.

Michael Marlar, president of Marlar Engineering, said the Highway Department’s plans would landlock 200 acres of the best residential acreage in the city. “This is to Sherwood what Chenal Valley is to west Little Rock,” he said.

Gregg Mueller with the Ashley Group explained that the developers own 63 acres near Hwy. 107 and Brockington Road. He said when the land was first purchased the North Belt route was going to cut through about 100 feet of the northern edge of the property.

“We had no problem with that but when the final route was approved it came through the middle of the property, putting 30 acres on one side of the interstate and 17 acres on the other,” he told the council.

He went on to say that the highway department had appraised the portion of the developers’ property it needed for rights of way.

“It was a low-ball figure,” Mueller said, adding that the developers’ appraiser came up with a figure five-and-half times higher. “We’ve not heard back from the highway department since presenting our appraisal,” he said.

Mueller added that if the city adopts what is proposed, “then the state can prohibit development of our land. It leaves us in limbo for the next 10 to 15 years. Exclude I-440 from the street map until the state is ready to purchase the land.”

Mayor Virginia Hillman cautioned the developers, “We were blamed in 1994 for stopping the North Belt. We can’t just switch it.

We have to work with the highway department.”

Pattison told the council that the North Belt, in one form or another, has appeared on master street maps since 1941. “It has moved steadily north over the years,” he said.

Sulcer reminded the council that the highway department had already, at the request of the city, adjusted the planned interchange for that area, shrinking the amount of right-of-way needed and giving the developers more land for commercial use.

Alderman Charlie Harmon told the developers that he thought it would be to the developers’ advantage to have it on the street map. “Once it is on the street map and the planning commission approves a platted plan, the highway department has one year to buy their necessary right-of-way.”

Pattison agreed, saying if the highway department doesn’t act within that year, the developers could proceed with their plans and then the highway department would have to pay a higher price to take over developed land. He added that the department has about $4 million right now to buy rights of way.

Alderman Becki Vassar said Sherwood needed the residential development, the commercial development and the bypass.
“If the highway department can do it all in west Little Rock, why not right here? We are being treated like a stepchild,” Vassar said.

The mayor and aldermen will spend the next month getting clarification from the highway department on its exact plans and timetable for North Belt construction in that area of Hwy. 107 and Brockington.

While no money has been identified to build the project, there is $4 million available to begin purchasing rights-of-way, according to Jim McKenzie, director of Metroplan. It would require conversion of 707 acres of right-of- way, according to the environmental impact statement.

The route east from I-40 at Crystal Hill was described like this:

From the western end of the proposed project at Interstate 40, the preferred alternative goes to the northeast through the Crystal Hill community to an interchange at Hwy. 365.

From there, it continues to the northeast into Camp Robinson, passing to the southeast of the Camp Robinson Army airfield.

Briefly turning to the southeast then east, the route passes to the north of Engineers Lake before turning to the northeast again to cross Batesville Pike just to the north of Maryland Avenue and the North Little Rock Municipal Airport.

Part of the route includes relocating a portion of Batesville Pike outside Camp Robinson.

From the Batesville Pike interchange, the route continues northeast to the west of Wayside Drive, and crosses Kellogg Acres Road just to the north of the intersection with Oakdale Road. It continues east just north of Oakdale Road and then southeast with an interchange proposed at Hwy. 107.

The preferred alternative turns to the northeast when crossing Fears Lake and back to the southeast, crossing Oneida Street before connecting with the Hwy. 67-167 interchange.