Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

TOP STORY>>Developers don’t want to wait on loop

Leader staff writer

“The North Belt will be a detriment to Sherwood,” developer Steve Deere told the Sherwood Planning Commission at its January meeting.

Deere, who wants to develop the 586-acre Oakdale North Addition, just west of Hwy. 107, believes the state is holding him and other developers hostage by not buying up the property it needs for the freeway.

Developer Tom Brooks, who is also working on the Oakdale development and is a former alderman, said that area was where future growth for Sherwood would take place, and he did not want its development to be restricted by the proposed location of the North Belt.

The state has only $4 million to buy up right-of-ways and that will not come close to buying what the state needs to extend the North Belt from Hwy. 67/167 to Hwy. 107, let alone covering land expenses to the west of Hwy. 107.

Deere has been told that property acquisition could be 10 years away. “How long am I expected to wait?” he asked the commission.

However, if the commission gives the go-ahead to Deere and other developers who own property along the proposed North Belt route, it could delay or kill the freeway project.

In the late 1990s, Sherwood developers, tired of waiting for the state to move ahead with plans for the North Belt Loop, built a subdivision in the middle of the approved route, causing what has turned out to be at least a 10-year delay of the project.

Now it could happen again.

The new I-440 route was just approved late last year, but would be in jeopardy if Deere and others get the go-ahead.

That new route has I-440 cutting Deere’s development almost in half from east to west. “Not only does it take 66 acres for the freeway, it landlocks about 150 acres in the northern half of the subdivision, according to David Jones with Marlar Engineering.

“There’s no provisions from the state for grade separations and we would need two of them to be able to develop that section,” Jones explained.

Deere says that the proposed route renders most of his property useless for development.

However, state law says once the planning commission approves development plans the state has one year to acquire the land it needs for projects. After that time, the developer is free to build in the right-of-way.

Commissioner Lucien Gillham, who recently met with Metroplan and the highway department, says the law is a little fuzzy, but that seems to be everyone’s interpretation of it.

The commission, knowing that the state most likely cannot work out something in a year’s time, has been reluctant to approve Deere’s plans or that of a few other developers. Deere’s plans were tabled in December and again this month.

“Let’s what and see what the state does,” Gillham said, explaining that the highway department did publicly state it would buy needed right-of-way in the Brockington Road area by Jan. 31.

Former city engineer Michael Clayton, representing the developer of Miller’s Crossroads, Phase II, is more adamant than Deere. He believes the state has already had more than a year to purchase the property in Miller’s Crossroads and that the developer shouldn’t have to wait any longer.

“It’s been well over a year since the Mehlberger Firm submitted plans on this 48-acre parcel of land,” Clayton said. He added that the plans do show the corridor for the North Belt.

But it is the route that is currently on the city’s master street plan, and that is not the same as the recently approved route.

The city council is taking public comment and making final adjustments to an updated master street plan that will show the newest route for the bypass. Clayton believes his client is not bound by the new plans.

Contrary to Clayton’s belief, the new North Belt route was supported and approved by the city in a resolution that was passed Apr. 23. 2007.

In the resolution the city agreed to the new route, only asking for a grade separation north of Oakdale Road and east of Mine Road.

In the resolution, the city also urged “the state Highway and Transportation Department to begin work on this most important project as soon as possible.”

Sherwood developers may do the same, as they want to develop property once again in the proposed North Belt corridor. The new route was just officially approved late last year.