Monday, March 26, 2007

TOP STORY >>Is course feasible for town?

IN SHORT: The city council will fund a feasibility study to look into the possible purchase of North Hills Country Club before it is turned into a subdivision.

Leader staff writer

A mayor-appointed committee looking into the possibility of buying and operating the North Hills Country Club as a municipal golf course will meet at 2:30 p.m. Monday at the Bill Harmon Recreation Center.

Later that evening at the city council meeting, aldermen will more than likely approve funding for a feasibility study of the 90-acre course.

The country club and golf course have supposedly been sold to a development group that wants to raze the grounds and build a high-scale gated community of $400,000 to $500,000 homes.

Al Harkins, with Arkansas National Bank, says his bank is providing the financing for the sale and that it is a done deal. But city officials are not so sure and want to meet with the primary buyer, but he’s been out of the country.

City officials are hoping to convince the buyers to forego the housing project and maintain the acreage as a golf course. If not, the city may try to purchase the property.

Mayor Danny Stedman said Friday that it would be up to the voters what the city does about the North Hills Country Club and golf course.

“It’s clear that we don’t have the money to buy the course and would need some sort of revenue input,” the mayor said.
That could be a tax proposal for the residents to vote on.

“Any sort of increase we present to the residents would have a sunset clause,” Stedman said. “It’s the only way we would present it.”

Operating a municipal course won’t be cheap. Based on figures provided by North Little Rock, it cost that city $439,552 to operate its Burns Park golf course in 2004; $486,169 in 2005; and $506, 973 in 2006.

Slightly more than $525,000 was budgeted for this year’s operation of the golf course, even though revenues are expected to be $30,000 less, coming in at $492,000.

North Little Rock also operates the Emerald Golf Course and its 2007 budget is about $54,000 while its income is expected to be about $48,000.

Stedman appointed an exploratory committee about two weeks ago to look at possibilities.

Headed by Alderman Becki Vassar, the committee met last week in what she called “a brainstorming workshop.”

“We sat around the table and tossed out plusses and minuses, and things to look into,” she said. Vassar is also supposed to meet with the buyer when he returns.

Vassar said that real estate attorney Tim Grooms, a Sherwood native, would help if the city gets a chance to do something with the property. “Grooms helps obtainsgreen space for area municipalities. He helped obtain land for the Clinton Library in Little Rock.

Alderman Keith Rankin, also on the exploratory committee, said they would be looking out for the city.

“I’ve lived here all my life and can’t picture Sherwood without the golf course,” he said, but emphasized the committee would do what’s best for the city.

About 150 Sherwood residents held a grassroots meeting early this month after receiving word that the North Hills Country Club had been sold and the new owners want to build houses on the land.

Vassar, one of six aldermen at the meeting at the recreation center, told the crowd that the area is zoned R-1 for residential, meaning it would be hard to stop anyone from building single-family homes on the acreage.

“One of our concerns is that if the high-end lots don’t sell, then the developer could come back and ask to build apartments or condominiums, and many think we already have too many apartments.”

Bob Franks, a former president of the North Hills Country Club, told the crowd at that meeting that when the Matthews family deeded over the land in 1926 it was guaranteed to be a country club and golf course for 100 years. “We’ve got another 19 years. Who changed the bill of assurances?”

Franks and others are meeting with a real estate lawyer later this week to see what happened.

He said city residents have used the clubhouse for 82 years. “Everyone has been touched by the country club in one fashion or the other.”

The issue will be one of four major items on the city council’s agenda for their 7 p.m. Monday meeting at city hall.
Also on the agenda:

- Aldermen will vote on two resolutions condemning two homes as public nuisances. The homes are located at 729 Cherrie Avenue (Lot 743 of the Edge Wood Manor Mobile Home Park) and 106 Elmwood.

- The council will also vote on an ordinance granting First Electric the exclusive rights to provide electricity to a proposed subdivision off Maryland Avenue.