Kanis Road, the minor east-west arterial in West Little Rock that until just a decade or so ago was mostly a two-lane route through undeveloped woods, is scheduled to be widened, in two phases, from its intersection with Shackleford Road west to its intersection with Gamble Road, starting next year. (East of Shackleford, where Baptist Hospital and several large medical clinics are located, Kanis has already been widened to five lanes.) A stretch between Shackleford and Bowman will be five lanes, with a center turn lane. Bowman to Gamble will be a three-lane, with a turn lane in the center.
But west of Gamble, widening Kanis is not yet on the city's radar screen, especially since a section of the road is outside the city limits. People who live near the three-street intersection of Kanis, Kirby and Cooper Orbit — where there is no stop sign — already have a hard time, they say, with traffic, thanks to new housing development and traffic from Baker Elementary School when school is in session. The state Highway and Transportation Department estimates annual average daily traffic at that intersection at 11,000 cars. By comparison, that's 1,000 more cars a day than on another minor north-west corridor, the two-lane Van Buren Street between Kavanaugh Boulevard and West Markham Street.
That number could grow substantially, if apartment projects approved and in the works for Kanis near the Kirby-Kanis-Cooper Orbit intersection are approved.
Already approved is the Panther Branch Addition, a 188-unit apartment development on 7.82 acres on Kanis close to its intersection with Kirby. It would include 326 parking spaces, and entrance and exit would be off Kanis. The land is not in the city limits; the developer will apply for annexation to the city. Kanis Road roughly, though not exactly, forms the boundary between the city and the county.
Though about half of the acreage was zoned MF-6, which would have restricted development to six units per acre, the remainder of the land was zoned C-1, Neighborhood Commercial, which would have allowed 36 units per acre by right. Based on the zoning, city planning staff said, the development could have accommodated 190 units. Still, there was neighborhood opposition to the planned residential development, particularly from residents of Cooper Orbit Road, who say they have trouble turning onto Kanis during peak travel time — rush hours and when Baker Elementary lets out — because it's so busy and there is no stoplight at the intersection. Residents also were unhappy that a service road the developer will build, Panther Branch Drive, will dead end at the rear of single-family homes on Cooper Orbit. That could be a "magnet" for criminals, Cooper Orbit resident Melanie Strigel complained in a June email to the City Board of Directors, which approved 7 to 3 the Panther Branch planned residential district July 1. Directors B.J. Wyrick, Joan Adcock and Doris Wright were the three dissenters.
Also planned for Kanis Road: the 288-unit Lofts at Kanis Creek development a half mile down Kanis to the west. The proposal is expected to come before the Planning Commission Sept. 18. This property is also not in the city, nor is it contiguous with the city boundary, so to be annexed (for city services) the neighboring Chenal Pet Palace, which it abuts, would have to be annexed first.
Donna James with the city planning commission said several other developers have made preliminary contact with the department about other development plans in the area:
*At the intersection of Kanis and Pride Valley, just past Baker Elementary School, developers would like to rezone land zoned for office for multifamily, to allow 300 units on 12 acres.
*At Kanis and Baker Lane, across from the school, a Lazenby Development planned residential development has been approved for 32 detached single-family homes.
*The Capital Hills Apartments on Cooper Orbit, which has built 156 units in its first phase, is expected to build between 300 and 400 more units in its second phase. Altogether, it's been approved for 528 units. It's 1.3 miles from the intersection with Kanis and the Panther Branch development.
*Woodlands Edge, which can be accessed by Woodlands Trail just east of the Kanis-Cooper Orbit-Kirby intersection, plans to add 32 houses to the development.
*The 72-unit Rowan Park Apartments on Kirby Road, less than 1/10 of a mile from the Kirby-Kanis intersection, is expected to expand north on Kirby. Survey stakes can be seen along the road.
There are also rumors, residents near Kanis say, that 40 more acres adjacent to the Lofts at Kanis Creek now zoned single-family may be for sale. Added together, there are plans for 840 new apartments clustered along a two-mile stretch of Kanis Road.
Why all the development on this stretch of Kanis, a formerly rural area with no bus service and few shopping amenities save the Valero station at Kirby and Kanis? Cathi Watkins, who lives in Spring Valley Manor off Cooper Orbit, believes it's because there's no overlay district — as there is on Highway 10 — imposing 100-foot setbacks and 40-foot landscaping strips and other requirements on developers.
Watkins and Jena McDonnell, the Spring Valley Manor Property Owners Association president, have expressed their fears to the Planning Commission and the board that the city is taking a parcel-by-parcel approach to development in the area, rather than looking at the "big picture." McDonnell is organizing a letter-writing campaign. Watkins said she's "appalled" at the moves by the city to allow the development. The neighborhood, she said, "was built in 1960s, tucked in between two big hills. Now, slowly the city is coming out here. I don't think it needs to be [high] density like downtown."
City Director Adcock said she believed that developers have a responsibility to make improvements to roadways as they add traffic to them and noted that the developers of the McDonald's restaurant at Markham and University spent $250,000 to improve access not just to it but to the Chik-fil-A west of McDonald's on Markham. (Two city directors, Dean Kumpuris and Stacy Hurst, opposed the McDonald's development despite the $250,000 offer.)
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