Monday, January 07, 2008

TOP STORY >> Officials schedule annexing meetings

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville has set two annexation meetings. The first is 6:30 p.m. Monday at First Baptist Church in Gravel Ridge and the second is a week later at the Jacksonville Community Center.

City officials will use the meetings to explain to Gravel Ridge and Jacksonville residents the advantages of having Gravel Ridge become part of Jacksonville.

“The primary purpose of the meetings is to let citizens ask questions and get answers,” explained Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim. “We will take the time to explain how we do things in Jacksonville and how it would affect Gravel Ridge residents, but mostly we’ll just answer questions.”

Swaim said the meetings would definitely be “audience participation” gatherings. “We want citizens as informed as possible before the vote,” the mayor said.

Jacksonville has set a Feb. 5 election, the same date as the state’s presidential primaries, to annex the 2,400-acre community of Gravel Ridge and its residents. Both Gravel Ridge and Jacksonville residents will be able to vote in that election.

Sherwood has countered with its own election, scheduled for March 11, to bring the rural community into that city. Sherwood and Gravel Ridge residents can vote in the March election.

If both elections approve annexation, then a third election will be scheduled for just Gravel Ridge residents to decide whether they want to be a part of Jacksonville or Sherwood. Gravel Ridge also has a possibility to become its own town, but would need Jacksonville’s approval, according to Don Zimmerman, executive director of the Municipal League.

Because Gravel Ridge falls into Jacksonville’s five-mile planning jurisdiction, he explained, Gravel Ridge would need to get permission from Jacksonville, in the form of a resolution, that it has no objections to having another city that close.
“They would have to go to Jacksonville and get the resolution passed before they could proceed with incorporating,” Zimmerman said. “If they don’t have that resolution, the county judge won’t approve it.”

The community would not need a resolution from Sher-wood because it is outside of Sherwood’s planning jurisdiction.
The area set for annexation includes the bulk of Gravel Ridge, going beyond Ison Road on the west, most of Hatcher Road on the north, about a mile east of Gibson Road, and just north of Ascot Drive on the south.

Jacksonville extends out to Jacksonville Cut-Off to about the Bayou Meto bridge, about 1.5 miles from the intersection of Hwy. 107 and Jacksonville Cut-Off. Sherwood’s city limits stop on Hwy. 107, about a half-mile south of that intersection and just south of Kellogg Creek.

Jacksonville and Sherwood would add land and more people to their cities if Gravel Ridge were annexed. Both cities are running out of affordable or usable land for housing and commercial developments.

Gravel Ridge would instantly increase the population of either city by about 8 percent with its roughly 4,000 residents.
Annexation also brings in a tax base of homes and more than two-dozen businesses. That tax base could help Jacksonville bolster its efforts for its own separate school district.

Besides available land for development, the proposed route for the North Belt freeway goes through a portion of Gravel Ridge, and at least one off-ramp, near Kellogg Valley, will exit into Gravel Ridge, opening that area up to additional development.
Gravel Ridge is the second piece of acreage that Jacksonville and Sherwood are in competition for.

The first area is 2,000 acres of undeveloped land north of Sherwood and west of Jacksonville.

Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines and a lower court have approved Sherwood’s annexing that area, but Jacksonville has appealed to the state Supreme Court. The case may not be settled until after the Gravel Ridge issue is resolved.

If Sherwood ends up with both annexations, its city limits will stretch at least seven miles in a south-north direction, from exit 3 off Hwy. 67/167 to the northwestern edge of Little Rock Air Force Base, effectively blocking any westerly expansion of Jacksonville.