August 22, 2012 Edition

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WR City Council approves
Hwy. 67 extension study

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

Representatives from the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and Andrew Coker, who served as Mayor for the Day, were guests at the Walnut Ridge City Council meeting on Aug. 14, and the council passed resolutions dealing with city property and the extension of Highway 67 north from Walnut Ridge to the Missouri state line. They also set the date for this year's Christmas parade.

Coker, the 12-year-old son of David and Cathy Coker of Walnut Ridge, was presented a certificate for his participation in the Mayor for the Day program. He shadowed Mayor Don House for the day and attended the council meeting. Coker is an honor student at Walnut Ridge Middle School.

Chamber of Commerce President Kari Shanks and Economic Development Director L.J. Bryant spoke to the council, with Bryant giving councilmen an update on some of the chamber's recent activities.

"Mayor House and I have spent a lot of time promoting this community," he said. "We continue to promote the 450 small businesses located in Lawrence County. We have held job fairs and business expos, with the next expo scheduled for Aug. 28 in the First Baptist Church MAC Building."

He said he and Mayor House were recently able to assist a Pocahontas business in locating and leasing a building in College City owned by Williams Baptist College. Pinnacle Frames, who supplies picture frames for Walmart, was looking for a large building to use for storage space, and they needed it as soon as possible. Bryant and House were able to put them in touch with the college, who owns the 76,000-square-foot building that formerly housed Miller Golf Bag, and Pinnacle knew they had the building they needed within approximately an hour's time.

Bryant told the council that the airport is one of the most important assets the city has in attracting new businesses, as well as good highways.

Shanks said that she and Bryant appreciate the mayor and the council's support of the chamber's efforts.

With the highways in Northeast Arkansas being of vital interest to the area's growth and development, the council was asked to pass a "Close the Gap" resolution that would endorse a planning study for the feasible path for the completion of U.S. Highway 67 from Walnut Ridge to the Arkansas/Missouri state line.

The proposed route for Highway 67 would start at the Missouri State Line to a little west of Corning, cross near some wetlands near Knobel, then go south to Walnut Ridge down Highway 34 (which is Highway 90 in some places), near Peach Orchard, Delaplaine and on to the north bypass at Walnut Ridge. The plan is one of three possible routes being studied.

The project is estimated to cost $60 million and is the route most preferred by the Arkansas State Highway Commission. The road would be a four-lane freeway, and could be expanded to interstate standards in the future. Mayor House added that no secondary or access roads would be needed for local businesses or farmers as a result of this plan because the project would be a freeway, not an interstate.

Gov. Mike Beebe has said he would support designating the highway as a high priority corridor and would like to see it begin before he leaves office in two years, according to the mayor.

The cities and counties in Northeast Arkansas have to agree on the plan in order to get the project underway Mayor House told the council. They have been told by the highway department to decide what kind of road they want and where they want it. It will take a unified effort to get the proposed highway built.

"There will be no request for a tax increase for this project," Mayor House added. "The half-cent sales tax increase now on the November ballot is for Arkansas roads. The work on Highway 412 from Crowley's Ridge to here will begin immediately if that tax is approved. The highway laid out in this plan will be paid for with existing highway money and any raised if the proposed tax passes."

"We've been shortchanged on roadwork in our area for some time," House said. "We need the 62-mile gap closed south of Poplar Bluff to Hoxie for the future growth of this area."

Alderwoman Paula Haskins expressed concern that the proposed highway would bypass Pocahontas, and Mayor House told her that because of the river and wetlands in that area, it was not logistically feasible to build the road through there, and would cost twice as much as the route being studied. "County Road 304 would receive a $20 million upgrade and the 12-mile stretch would become a state road, giving Pocahontas good access to the proposed new highway. That would be a great asset to them," the mayor added.

Walnut Ridge, Hoxie, Lawrence County and other entities along the proposed route are being asked to approve the resolution, along with the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facility Authority.

The council voted in favor of the resolution. The rules were suspended and the resolution became effective immediately.

Alderman Mike Phillips asked that the council go into executive session to deal with a personnel issue. No action was taken following the session.

In other business the council:

  • passed a resolution requiring the city to place a dollar amount on all fixed assets valued at $1,000 or more and list them on the city inventory list.

  • was informed of a Planning Commission training workshop set for Sept. 19 in Eureka Springs. The mayor encouraged council members to attend if possible. A new state law requires the city to have a Board of Adjustment to hear requests for variances to city zoning ordinances, setbacks, height, lot coverage, building materials, fence height and location, and also to determine if a city official has made an error regarding a zoning requirement.

  • learned that the annual Christmas parade will be held on Dec. 4, which is the first Tuesday in December, as has been the custom for many years.

Special Meeting

In a special meeting on Aug. 9, the council passed an ordinance to rezone lots 238-241 in the Benson 83 addition from R2 (Multi Family) to that of RR (Rural Residential), as requested by John Andrews, owner of the four lots. Andrews planned to build an accessory building on one of the lots, which was rated R2, but city ordinances prevented the building until the property was rezoned RR.

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