Wednesday, July 30, 2014

University neighborhoods fighting 24-hour gas station, hotel

Posted By on Wed, Jul 30, 2014 at 11:41 AM

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The staff of the Little Rock Planning Commission called proposals to build a 24-hour gas station and four-story residential hotel at 12th Street and University Avenue "inappropriate," citing the University Park neighborhood immediately adjacent and the nearby Broadmoor neighborhood, the new $3.2 million Centre at University Park a block west, the Elizabeth Mitchell Child Center, the YMCA, a daycare and efforts to revitalize the 12th Street Corridor. 

So, in what looks like a trend, the Planning Commission decided the professional planning staff didn't know what it was talking about and voted 9-1 to approve the Murphy USA gas station and hotel. (The Commission early approved a bid by Mapco to build a multi-pump station at Fourth and Broadway. That proposal was withdrawn after opposition from numerous downtown groups.) UPDATE: Thomas Brock was the nay vote on the hotel; Rebecca Finney was the nay vote on the gas station and convenience store. Jennifer Martinez Belt was absent.

Last night, the University District Neighborhood Association of 10 neighborhood groups voted on a resolution to go to the City Board stating its opposition to the developments. The City Board will vote on the developments at its meeting next Tuesday. 

Pam Powell, speaking for the association, said residents are concerned that an extended stay hotel "would become a low-rent apartment building" visible to homes immediately adjacent to the hotel, and there were serious concerns about traffic and lighting a 24-hour service station and convenience store would bring. "There's a service station and convenience store across the street and two others in either direction and we don't need anymore," Powell said.

Powell, who expressed her opposition at the June 26 Planning Commission hearing on the proposals, brought by Joe White of White Daters for the hotel and White and Murphy USA for the gas station, said the City Board last night asked Tony Bozynski, planning director, why the commission overruled staff. Bozynski said he could not answer. 

At the Planning Commission hearing, Powell said, Commissioner Obray Nunnley Jr. said discussion was avoiding the "elephant in the room," which was that people who bought in neighborhoods so close to the arterial streets shouldn't be surprised at development. "I was appalled," Powell said. "He was rude." 

Nunnley said this morning that "people come to the commission and they want to save us from themselves. When you purchase a piece of property you have to decide whether or into there’s going to be anything that is going to be built in that area that will negatively impact your property." He said that University Avenue was an "arterial" before University Park was built. University Park was built in the 1960s, just after Hayes Street was renamed University. He said the distance between the hotel and gas station development was "huge ... a pretty good distance" from the YMCA and the Centre at University (formerly the Adult Leisure Center).

"In fact, most of us did not envision a 24-hour service station and hotel" at the intersection, Powell, who has lived in the area since 1979, said. The site was formerly occupied by Brandon Furniture.

The area is zoned I light industrial.

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