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Kanis Road, from its intersection with Chenal Parkway, past the city limits and into Ferndale, is one of Pulaski County's most scenic little two-lanes. It's banked by wooded high ridges on both sides, and the trees come right up to the narrow roadway, creating a canopy.
Part of the road is in what's known as Fletcher Hollow, named for a family that settled there in the 19th century, ancestors of state poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner John Gould Fletcher and heroine of the 1957 desegregation crisis Adolphine Fletcher Terry. Fletcher Creek drains these Ouachita Mountain foothills; Kanis crosses the creek on a new bridge, with bike lanes, just before its intersection with Walnut Grove Road. On the north, most of the land is undeveloped, much of it owned by Deltic Timber. On the south, set far back from the road, are subdivisions with generous five-acre lots, including Chenal Downs, Ferncrest and Iron Horse. With the exception of large homes on vast lots, Walnut Grove Road north and south of the intersection with Kanis looks much as it must have years ago. South on Walnut Grove is a one-room clapboard church built in 1885 and an old cemetery; north is the rustic Camp Okatoma, reached by a one-lane bridge, the county's only covered bridge.
It is a singularly pretty bit of the county, and many of the people who live there want it to stay that way.
But a portion of Kanis, while in the county, is within the city's extraterritorial planning jurisdiction, and legal precedent says the city can't use the area's bucolic nature to stop development as long as it satisfies R-2 zoning requirements.
So, on Thursday, Oct. 8, as this paper is distributed, the Little Rock Planning Commission is almost sure to approve a new 154-acre subdivision along this stretch of Kanis that will have 266 homes at full build-out. The development, The Trails, will include large lots along the ridge closest to Kanis, construction that will require that 30 feet be shaved off the top of the ridge for one-and-a-quarter miles. Lots will range in size from 7,000 square feet to 98,000 square feet, or 2.2 acres.
The Planning Commission staff has recommended approval for The Trails as long as the developer, Wayne "Oz" Richie, meets setbacks, easements, stormwater detention ordinances, street grading and so forth. He will not have to meet city requirements on clear-cutting, however, since the city's land alteration rules don't apply extraterritorially.
Ironically, Richie's first application, for a planned residential development that would have preserved large areas of forest and trails (hence the name), was not recommended by department staff because it included 4,000-square-foot lots for "cottage homes." The city's minimum lot size is 7,000 square feet; Richie would have needed a variance for the PRD to be approved. Instead, he dropped the PRD plan and went with a simple R-2 zoned subdivision application instead, bumping up lot sizes by removing the wooded areas. The development still contains a bike trail along its boundary, greenways on the west and east, and four pavilions. Richie, who also developed Ferncrest to the south, insists that despite the high density, the tree buffer will keep the development from altering the scenic nature of Kanis.
There is still a possible block to the development. Richie will have to build and homeowners will have to maintain a private sewage treatment plant, which will require approval by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and meet federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. The Planning Commission will first have to issue a conditional use permit for the sewage treatment plant.
The development includes two sewer ponds, on the south boundary. Flow from the spillway of the larger of the two ponds, on the southwestern edge of the property, will enter Fletcher Creek.
There were 50 letters in opposition to the development on file at the Planning Department as of Monday, including letters from state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock) and Sheriff Doc Holladay. Besides noncompatibility with the today's development of Kanis, opponents cited traffic concerns (Stephen Giles, the lawyer hired by the Citizens of West Pulaski County to help them contest the development, said The Trails would add 2,600 more car trips a day on Kanis Road, which is 22 feet wide) and increased storm-water runoff from the deforestation of the property, and questioned whether the volunteer fire department and water pressure would be sufficient to fight fire in the densely populated area of The Trails. They also note that the county does not enforce zoning violations cited by the city.
Highest on the list of complaints, however, was the potential despoiling of Fletcher Creek.
"Who will maintain [the sewage treatment plant]?" asked Gresham Barnes, who lives on Burlingame Road. "The city? Look around at neighboring communities like Bryant who have one that's costing millions to clean up. What about the smell? I don't care how many promises are made by the contractor, those ponds will stink. My house sits one-half mile southwest of the site. Every morning when I get up to sit on my porch and drink coffee I'll be forced to go indoors due to the wretched odor of 266 crappers draining out into a couple of nasty ponds."
Several members of the private Okatoma Club wrote to say they feared the drainage into Fletcher Creek would make the water unsafe for their children to swim in the pond created on the property.
Sharon Bale, who with her husband owns property adjoining Richie's on the south side, wrote to ask, "Where does the buck stop when something goes wrong and Fletcher Creek and Little Maumelle are contaminated?"
She also wondered where the construction trucks would park, and cited the nearby enormous land clearing going on Rahling Road. "I counted 17 workers trucks parked in a row on the [Rahling] site ... . Where will the workers for Fletcher Hollow park?"
A couple of letters questioned whether the development would be successful. "No person with a firing neuron is going to buy a rabbit hutch on a postage stamp and commute eight miles to live 10 feet from his neighbor," Ken Williams, a resident of Fox Ridge Road, wrote.
Jerry Straessle, who lives on 25 acres that border the western edge of The Trails, has also retained a lawyer. Straessle said the development engineer had informed him that once all seven phases of construction are complete, the sewage treatment plant — actually a system made up of several treatment modules — will be processing 37,000 gallons of wastewater a day. Fletcher Creek regularly floods his driveway in rainy seasons; he predicts things will worsen as The Trails develops.
Straessle also fears a portion of his property will be eroded by the 30-foot road cut along a portion of the ridgeline that he owns. He said there are no plans to build a retaining wall.
Then there is the quality of his well water. "I have no earthly idea where aquifers are that feed my well and the effect of construction," Straessle said. "They tell me that mountain is solid rock and they're going to have to do some blasting. I have no idea what that is going to do" to his well, he said.
Last, he's worried about construction runoff onto the portions of his property below The Trails. "Bottom line, what this whole thing does is it devalues my property immensely. I don't know any way in the world they can prevent the water issues."
Richie said he was uncertain about how much water will flow from the spillway, but that it would not be tainted with sewage. "We are not running sewage into Fletcher. We would be bad people if we did that."
Richie also said he thought that moving away from the 4,000-square-foot lots to the 7,000-square-foot lots would please the neighborhood. "We thought it was what they wanted."
In a post on the Citizens of West Pulaski County's Facebook page, a forum for The Trails opposition, Kenneth Lipsmeyer wrote about the fact that the development is in the county but decided mostly by the city:
"Our county community does not have a legal voice in this fight in our own neighborhood. Zoning for rural West Pulaski County is dictated by the Directors of the Board of the City of Little Rock. They control all zoning matters for our community even though we are outside their city. We don't get to vote for these elected officials and the city even has the power to preventing us from forming our own incorporated communities to manage growth in our area. Our only power is in the volume of our voice and action to let people know about the threat to the rural beauty in West Pulaski County."
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