Leader Blues

Friday, November 28, 2008

TOP STORY > >Developers want state to buy land

Leader staff writers

The Sherwood area developers who asked the city council Monday to take the North Belt Freeway route off the city’s master street plan might be satisfied if state highway and transportation authorities would specify exactly where in a 200-foot-wide swath that highway would be located, then promptly buy the right-of-way, Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said Wednesday.

This second leg of the North Belt Freeway would help alleviate congestion on I-40, bringing it through the northern reaches of Sherwood.

The developers say they can’t develop their land as long as the North Belt Loop is part of the master street plan and that the state appraisers have “low-balled” the value of that land.

But to remove it from the plan could endanger the long-planned project.

Developers insisted that they have been in limbo for almost two years and 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 land lock 200 acres of the best residential acreage in the city.
Gregg Mueller with the Ashley Group said that the developers own 63 acres near Hwy. 107 and Brockington Road.

It would require conversion of 707 acres of right-of-way, according to the environmental-impact statement.

“We only got the (federal) record of decision in September,” said Randy Ort, Highway Department spokesman. Until then, the department couldn’t precede any farther. “If the city takes it off the master street plan, then it may not get built,” Ort said.

“That’s a local issue. The city needs to deal with that. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to the point where we are now,” he added.

Ort said that now that the alignment of that highway from Hwy. 67/167 to I-430 at Crystal Hill had been federally approved, the engineers could begin to develop the exact path.

“There will be public meetings and public input as well,” Ort said, before the engineered route is approved.

“This is not the time for the city to be backing off the North Belt,” Hillman said. We already passed a resolution (in 2007) saying we approved of (the route). It’s a very touchy issue.

“I’ve got an email from the city planner and we will talk with the Highway Department before the next council meeting,” Hillman said.

Developers told her that their properties had been assessed for the Highway Department at about one-fifth the value they believed they should be.

The Highway Department has earmarked $4 million to begin buying right- of-way, but Ort said Friday he didn’t know if the money was actually available.

“The key is the rapid acquisition of the right-of-way,” said Jim McKenzie, executive director of Metroplan.

“My understanding is that the city had endorsed the route and to the best of my knowledge, they intend to stand by that,” McKenzie said.

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.

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 interchange.