Big trouble in Little Italy: Sierra Club joins Central Ark. Water in opposing incorporation | Arkansas Blog

Monday, June 15, 2015

Big trouble in Little Italy: Sierra Club joins Central Ark. Water in opposing incorporation

Posted By on Mon, Jun 15, 2015 at 1:39 PM

click to enlarge proposed_small.jpg

The proposed incorporation of the community of Little Italy into a municipality, which at first glance seemed like a quirky, one-off story about historical preservation, has turned out to be a matter of some controversy.

Last week, Central Arkansas Water, the utility which manages Lake Maumelle and provides water service to Little Rock and other communities, announced it would fight the incorporation. CAW is concerned that Little Italy's real motivation for seeking cityhood is to circumvent planning and zoning requirements that Pulaski County has enacted to protect the Lake Maumelle watershed. Now, the Sierra Club and the Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods are also urging Pulaski County to deny Little Italy's petition and asking the Little Rock City Board to adopt a resolution in opposition.

Among the points made by the Sierra Club in an email to members:

While the stated reason of the petitioners is historical and cultural preservation, the proposed area to be incorporated extends far beyond the area known as Little Italy. It encompasses over 5,000 of the 19,000 developable acres within the watershed. This means that over 25% of the watershed could soon be developed without regard to the county zoning ordinance designed to protect the lake.

Central Arkansas Water and its consultants used assumptions for run-off rates, building density, stream buffers, and protected forests using a complex modeling tool based on THE WHOLE 19,000 acres being included in the calculations. Those assumptions and results can no longer be used to determine the protections necessary to protect the lake water. It could require additional land purchases for CAW or even more restrictive ordinances for the rest of the residents within the watershed to maintain existing levels of run-off.

If “Little Italy” becomes a municipality, it would have the ability to annex surrounding properties and further undermine the zoning ordinance and lake water quality.

That last point is especially important. The boundaries of the proposed town as currently drawn would approach the north shore of Lake Maumelle in a spot or two (see map), but if the community annexes more land down the road, it could take up an ever larger percentage of the watershed and encroach further towards the lake itself. (A larger version of the map is available in the CAW attachment below.)

CAW also lays out another argument in its memo to the city that is distinct from protecting water quality: The incorporation could "jeopardize the continued growth of Little Rock." The reasoning there is that landowners in Western Pulaski County might be more inclined to join a future Little Italy, considering the community's stated intention to keep taxes and fees minimal or nonexistent.

Among the evidence CAW provides for the theory that Little Italy's incorporation is driven by desires to avoid land-use and planning requirements and knowledge of the development potential of the land within its new boundaries: 

The Little Italy organizers ... estimate that about 380 people reside in the area to be included within the new town. The town will include about 8.8 square miles of real property, with a population density of 43.4 individuals per square mile. Among a comparison of Arkansas cities and towns with populations ranging from 200 - 403, Little Italy would be the second largest municipality in terms of geographic area but the second smallest in terms of population density of any town with this population.

Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde will hold a hearing on the incorporation on July 13. Here's CAW's memo to the Little Rock City Board:

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