Tuesday, June 20, 2006

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville-Sherwood fight delayed

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Pulaski County judge postpones Sherwood’s annexation of 2,000 acres until mid-July because of uncertainties about jurisdiction.

Four landowners who want their property east and north of Bayou Meto annexed into Sherwood city limits, against the wishes of Jacksonville, will have to wait about a month for an outcome.

Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines, who makes the decision on county land annexed into a municipality, postponed any discussion on the annexation of 2,000 acres until after July 15. The landowners, Sherwood and Jacksonville have until then to file legal briefs citing county court jurisdictional authority.

Villines made his ruling to delay a decision during Tuesday’s hearing at the Pulaski County Administration Building in downtown Little Rock.

“As I read the law, county court doesn’t have any means to address this issue,” Villines said. “The law is very open as to what this court can do.”

Four major landowners had filed petitions in Pulaski County Court to annex property into Sherwood north and east of Bayou Meto, a water system agreed upon as a “natural boundary” by Jacksonville and Sherwood.

A lawyer representing the petitioners, including Byron McKimmey and Greg Heslep, spoke first and was followed by annexation opponents and members of Villines’ legal panel, who reviewed the court’s responsibilities regarding such issues.
Villines cited the county court’s limited authority in municipal territorial litigation and said circuit courts can consider the size of proposed annexations.

He did, however, list several concerns for both sides to consider before submitting legal briefs.

Villines said the property owners must be sure of their decision to annex into another city, and reminded petitioners and opponents of relied-upon previous agreements regarding the boundary marked by the bayou.

A member of the legal panel, speaking for the Pulaski County Public Works Division, said the annexation would “create island” within Sherwood city limits, and would result in a different telephone number for emergency services. He also said that if the annexation were granted, Sherwood would have to accept responsibility for maintaining all roads within the new city territory.

Two subdivisions off Highway 107, near Hatcher Road are not included in the planned annexation and would therefore remain in the county, although surrounded by Sherwood, if the annexation is approved. Villines said the potential complications regarding emergency services to homeowners in the “island communities” were among his major concerns.
Attorney Steven Giles, who also represented Sherwood, represented the petitioners.

Sherwood City Engineer Michael Clayton previously submitted two property surveys conducted independently and two surveys conducted by city planning officials.

Jacksonville City Attorney Bob Bamburg submitted six maps as opposition exhibits and said only the north and east portions of Bayou Meto are opposed.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said, “We’re not totally opposed to this proposal, but if it is allowed, it will negatively affect efforts to provide water that follows Bayou Meto north and east.”

Bamburg entered into evidence Resolution 594, adopted by the Jacksonville city council and planning commission earlier this month officially opposing the annexation proposal, and submitted maps designed in cooperation with Little Rock Air Force Base officials.

“It is important this portion is not annexed,” he said. “Our planning commission and wastewater de-partments plan to sewer that area. We’ve complied with state statutes requiring plans to pass through an overlay district. Our political philosophy has been that Bayou Meto serves as a natural boundary and this proposed annexation creates problems.”

Bamburg said that a 2003 master plan submitted to Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation District was confirmed as a registered service area and that a service agreement was recognized by Central Arkansas Water designating Jacksonville’s domain north and east of Bayou Meto and Sherwood’s south and west. Jacksonville contends that a 600,000 gallon elevated water tank already in place will be able to service subdivision water lines currently in development.

“I’m not convinced I’ve got jurisdiction to turn this down,” Villines said to annexation opponents. “Give me a legal argument to do so, and attorney Giles a copy and a chance to respond.”

Both sides agreed to the July 15 deadline suggested by Bamburg.

“Maybe the decision to decide jurisdiction should land in circuit court,” Villines said.