Leader Blues

Monday, February 02, 2009

TOP STORY>>State is making land purchase a top priority

Leader staff writer

Buying North Belt right-of-way land in Sherwood near Brockington Road is “priority one,” according to the state Highway Department.

“We had hoped to have it wrapped up by the end of January,” said David Niles, spokesman with the Highway Department, on Friday, “but it looks like it’ll be next week now. It is on the top of our list of priorities.”

The state has about $4 million to buy right-of-way for the proposed North Belt route from Hwy. 67/167 through Sherwood over to Hwy. 107.

The $4 million won’t buy all the land the state needs for the bypass that has been on the books since the late 1940s, but it will help move the project forward.

The Sherwood City Council effectively put the state Highway Department on notice last week when aldermen delayed approving again the master street plan for another month.

Alderman Charlie Harmon recommended the delay. “I’m of the opinion that we should continue to table this until we see movement,” he said.

Harmon was afraid that approval would allow the state to slow its efforts in making the necessary right-of-way purchases.

Alderman Becki Vassar called that area of Hwy. 107 and Brockington Road a major growth area for the city. “We need to allow it to grow, but we also need the North Belt. I want both. If 30 days will help, then by all means lets table this.”

Once the city officially places the approved route on the master plan then it will no longer be able to hold back developers who want to build in or near the right-of-way of the proposed bypass.

When the city’s planning commission approves these projects—and there are at least two developers pounding to get approval—it starts the clock ticking, giving the state one year to buy or at least make an offer to purchase the right-of-ways in those subdivisions.

If the year goes by with no movement from the state, then developers can build in the right-of-way, which could alter, delay or kill the North Belt.

Niles said the state has been negotiating with the owners of the two parcels the highway department needs near Brockington Road but was unable to work out an agreement. That led to an outside appraisal being done. Niles said the department was that appraisal and it is going through a final review.

“We hope to have it completed quickly,” he said.

The proposed North Belt cuts a 200-foot chunk across the proposed 63-acre Brockington Crossing, located just north of Brockington Road and west of Hwy. 107. That right-of-way purchase the state hopes to wrap up in about a week.

The other two development companies—Deere Properties and 107-Oakdale, LLC--are wanting to build to the east of Hwy. 107.

In fact at the January Sherwood planning commission meeting, developer Steve Deere said, “The North Belt will be a detriment to Sherwood.”

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 going in and buying up the property it needs for the freeway.

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

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

The proposed I-440 route cuts 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.

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.

“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 old corridor for the North Belt, and that’s the one currently on the master street plan.

In other council business:

– Aldermen condemned a commercial structure at 7300 Hwy. 107 known as North Hills Shopping Center and a residential structure at 7225 Jacksonville Cut Off Road as public nuisances. The owners have 30 days to bring the structures up to code or the city will make arrangements to tear the buildings down.

– The council approved a 2009 budget of $1.73 million for the wastewater department, up from $995,505 in 2008. The $650,000 increase covers sewer improvement work required by the state and will be funded by an approved sales tax.

– The council revised the boundaries of the Gravel Ridge land it annexed last year, kicking loose about 68 acres of land near the southern end of Jacksonville’s Northlake subdivision. Most of that land will become part of a lake for that subdivision and eventually be annexed into Jacksonville.