September 23, 2015 Edition

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WR citizens cry out
against zoning changes

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Several Walnut Ridge citizens spoke out against rezoning properties in the city for apartments during Monday night's city council meeting. The citizens present said it would lower property values of surrounding homes and cause increased traffic and safety concerns for the neighborhoods.

After recently rezoning property north of the Woodland Acres subdivision from R1 to R3 and looking to do the same at two lots located at the northeast corner of Poplar and Northeast Fourth streets, the city council faced much hostility from citizens about the impact on existing properties.

One citizen became disruptive enough despite several warnings to be escorted out of the meeting by Police Chief Chris Kirksey. "We will maintain control at these meetings," Mayor Charles Snapp said.

Discussion continued at length on ways to increase communication about rezoning issues. Several voiced that the rezoning of the property north of Woodland Acres to R3 was not made known to them until it had already been approved.

Citizen Rickey Ditto, who lives in Woodland Acres, said if people in the neighborhood had known, they would have been at the meeting to voice their concerns. "It's going to cause our property value to depreciate."

The city meets legal requirements by running notification of proposed rezonings in the legal section of the local newspaper. However, Snapp agreed that most citizens don't read the legal notices regularly and the information in them is often presented in property measurements, which are hard to understand.

A committee was formed to develop better communication methods for planning and zoning matters. Alderman Allen Smith will chair the committee. Also serving on the committee will be Alderman Jon Walter, Ditto and citizen Stephanie Nichols, who was active throughout discussions in the meeting and recommended the committee be formed.

Current rezoning
issues discussed

The issue of rezoning property at Poplar and Northeast Fourth streets was brought before the council at the meeting. The property, if rezoned, would be used to house a single unit containing four apartments, according to local businessmen and landlords, B.J. Hibbard and Bobby Macom.

While there are many apartments in the area, the block on which the lots in question rest is zoned R1. Smith said he didn't like the idea of breaking up the block.

Hibbard said the property would be single-bedroom apartments with two parking spots each. Macom added that the apartments would be on par with the rest of the neighborhood.

The ordinance to rezone the property passed on the first reading with Smith and Alderman Daniel Abbott voting against it. The ordinance failed to pass under an emergency clause as it did not receive the required minimum of six votes. Aldermen Anthony Pinkston and Wendell Jones were absent. The ordinance will be revisited at a future meeting.

The rezoning of property north of Woodland Acres has already been approved by the city council. The property will be used primarily to house apartments but other housing structures could be incorporated.

The land is under the development of Genesis Property Development out of Pocahontas. Mark Holt and Luke Holt with Genesis were at the meeting and explained they have plans to develop apartments in Walnut Ridge, Hoxie and Pocahontas, and said they have the community's best interest in mind.

"This is home for us, we have the same concerns you have," Mark Holt said.

Also at the meeting, the council:

tabled a lease with special conditions on the Jumpstart Shelter. The lease would accomplish everything a contract would, but could be more easily terminated if the need arises. The table was due to concerns about Jumpstart's ability to staff the shelter. With no representation from Jumpstart at the meeting to address this concern, aldermen voted to table until the next meeting.

approved the purchase of CSA accounting software based on state recommendations after QuickBooks proved not equipped to handle the city budget.

agreed to have the city pay the balance on a loan with Iberiabank used for the purchase of a tractor. The $11,894 is available in the city's funds and when paid will save the city some interest expenses associated with the loan.

approved a warranty deed with a reversion clause on property across from the old Higginbotham Funeral Home, commonly referred to as the Bailey Building. The deed would allow the sale of the property with continued exceptions on a nine-foot encroachment of a public right of way. Should the building that encroaches be removed, the nine-foot section will return to the city.

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