Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
If you talk to City Director Joan Adcock, the three neighborhoods south of Interstate 630 and east of University that the Little Rock Technology Park Authority has been assessing no longer face the bulldozer. "You won," she told the Forest Park Neighborhood Association last week after Authority board chair Dr. Mary Good released a letter saying the three sites would be "taken off the table." To Adcock, the matter is settled.
But maybe not. Good's letter contains a caveat: the neighborhoods will "not be given further consideration unless there is substantial neighborhood interest and support" from an area, leaving that neighborhood again vulnerable to the board's power to take properties through eminent domain.
What constitutes "substantial"? To Adcock, substantial would mean, she said, "I would have to have everybody come and tell me that's what they wanted." The Authority board hasn't spelled out what it means.
To real estate lawyer Jason Bolden, however, substantial means a group he represents that he says owns 40 properties in and around what civil engineers are calling Area 3, Forest Hills, the area closest to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, he told the Authority in May and Adcock via e-mail this week.
It's not surprising Bolden is willing to give up his Forest Hills property. He's held it — eight addresses and perhaps nine — for less than a year, buying it after it was announced the neighborhood was being considered for the park, either by negotiation or condemnation. Another dozen plus properties have been bought in the past year by Mike Ashcraft (doing business as Star Properties LLC, Downtown Little Rock Properties and Equity Properties), who has also sold property to the Central Arkansas Library System for its Children's Library on Fair Park in a deal negotiated by Tech park board member Dickson Flake. Other willing sellers are David and Gail Oyster, owners of a dozen rental properties in Forest Hills.
Good released what seemed at first blush to be a conciliatory letter Thursday in response to city displeasure at the conduct of a tech board meeting Wednesday. At that meeting, the board continued discussion of the three proposed sites with their civil engineer, Crafton Tull, which seemed to snub a city ordinance passed only Tuesday that acknowledged residents' objections to the taking of their homes and requested the board do a six-month "extensive study" of alternative sites. (The city can only request action by the board, which was created by state legislation, but it does have a hammer: $22 million in city tax dollars pledged to the start-up of the technology park.)
On Monday, however, Dr. Good insisted that the board's position is basically unchanged since before the passage of the ordinance, though the language about requiring substantial support for a neighborhood to go back on the table is new, as its request that support for any of the three locations be communicated to Adcock, as an at-large director, and Director Ken Richardson, in whose ward the three possible sites lie. As for the rest, Good said, "it's exactly what we said on Wednesday, that we will prioritize and do nothing until we've looked at all the alternatives."
There's no question that the neighborhoods — Area 3, around 40 acres in Forest Hills between Monroe on the west and Peyton on the east north of 12th Street; Area 2, 40 acres in Fair Park south of 12th largely between Fair Park and Harrison Street, and Area 1, 60 acres north of the UALR campus east of University Avenue, the location of the Methodist Children's Home — are the first choices of the Authority; two of the locations were determined by a consultant and the third by Authority board member Dickson Flake. Any alternative to them, Good said, will have to meet certain criteria that the Authority board is now in the process of drawing up. She wouldn't say whether the much-debated "five minute" rule (which City Director Dean Kumpuris described as "malarkey") that would limit the distance the park could be from Authority partners the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock would be part of the criteria. "In our mind it's not a contested issue," a description a reporter had used, Good said of the five-minute rule. "Where the location goes it is still going to, in our opinion, be relatively close to the institution."
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