Leader Blues

Monday, February 16, 2009

TOP STORY >> State holds up work on loop

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

The state Highway Department will not buy any rights-of-way for the North Belt until the Sherwood City Council puts the latest route of the proposed bypass on its master street plan.

The council has been tabling any action on the street plan, waiting for the Highway Department to purchase rights-of-way around the Brockington Road-Hwy. 107 area.

But in a Feb. 9 letter to Mayor Virginia Hillman, dated, Dan Flowers, the director of the state Highway and Transportation Department, said, “In light of the city being unwilling to amend the Master Street Plan to show the correct location of the proposed North Belt Freeway, we do not believe it is prudent to proceed.”

Flowers’ letter suggests closing negotiations are not as close as the aldermen think.

“As you are aware,” Flowers wrote to the mayor, “the department has made offers to purchase right of way from two property owners in the vicinity of Highway 107 and Brockington Road.

“Both property owners subsequently made counteroffers well in excess of the department’s initial offers. Because of the large difference in our offers and the property owners’ counter offers, the department contracted with a third-party firm to appraise the property.

“The third-party appraisal has been received by the department, and we are prepared to make a counter offer,” Flowers wrote.

However, he continued, “We believe that the city should amend the master street plan to show the federally approved location of the North Belt Freeway before a counter- offer being made to the property owners.”

In his letter to the mayor, Flowers cited an article in The Leader that stated the council was tabling any action on the street plan until the city saw some movement from the state.

“We believe,” Flowers said, “that movement has been made over the past year to 18 months by the department working with the city to minimize the footprint of the proposed North Belt Freeway’s interchange with Hwy. 107, by amending the Statewide Transportation Improvement Pro-gram to include funds for early purchase of right of way, by making offers to two property owners in the vicinity of the proposed interchange and by contracting for a third-party appraisal.”

On Feb. 10, the Sherwood planning commission tabled a proposed development for at least the third time because the city street plan has not been approved, even after a lawyer for the developers suggested that the city could be in “financial peril” if it did not approve the plans.

Attorney Hal Kemp said then the Highway Department was the bad guy and the city was just a pawn for the state and that it could not make a developer give up something for the state.

The commission wants the developer to show the North Belt on his plans, even though its latest location is not on the city’s street plans. If the developer does show it, then the right-of-way chews up about 60 acres of his acreage and could prevent another 150 acres from being developed.

Kemp said the city could ultimately end up financially responsible for the acreage it wants to take for the North Belt.

So while the Highway Depart-ment and the planning commission are waiting on the city council, the city council has been waiting on the Highway Department.

An official with the Highway Department told Sherwood officials in late December that the state had $4 million to purchase rights-of-way and would be ready to purchase the Brockington acreage by the end of January.

Alderman Charlie Harmon and others on the council felt it was prudent to delay approving the street plan until the highway department made the purchase. Even in late January, the word from the highway department was that the final appraisal was in and just needed final review.

Of course, a counteroffer doesn’t mean acceptance, and negotiations could drag on for some time.

Even though the route is not yet on the street plan that is in use, the council did pass a resolution in 2007 accepting the latest approved routing of the bypass.

The council has already approved two readings of the new master street plan, but it needs to be approved a third time to become law.

Without a specially called meeting, the council will take up the street plan again at its regular monthly meeting Feb. 25.