Friday, August 20, 2010

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville moving ahead on expansion

Leader staff writer

It was called a forced shotgun wedding that wouldn’t last by one resident and a violation of private property rights by another, but the Jacksonville City Council went ahead with its annexation plans Thursday.

The council unanimously voted to move forward with the annexation, meaning the issue will be placed on the Nov. 2 general ballot despite threats of legal action by rural residents and a strong advertising push to get people to vote no on annexation.

The city wants to bring in about 3.8 square miles of land north of the city, mostly along Hwy. 67/167, and about .38 square mile to the south, off Hwy. 161.

Only Jacksonville residents and those living in the affected areas will be allowed to vote on annexation.

Before approving the ordinance, which follows state law and places the issue on the ballot, the council heard from both sides.

Jason Wilkerson, representing the chamber of commerce, said the chamber was 100 percent behind the plans. He said the chamber board voted to “fully support the annexation ordinance.”

Richard Robertson, representing most of the people in the packed chambers, in a passionate plea, tied the ordinance to that of a shotgun wedding.

“The suitor may be good looking, strong and make all the proper promises and be full of good intentions, but if the other party doesn’t want to be in this forced shotgun marriage, it will not be happy or successful.”

He said simply that residents north of the city didn’t want to be a part of Jacksonville because “We love our freedom. We don’t want government control, rule or bureaucracy.”

He reminded the council that the land is adjacent to Little Rock Air Force Base and that development of the rural area could lead to the closing of the base.

“It would be wise to take the long view and keep our area rural. You will not be happy when the area is dotted with a bunch of Oak Ridge Subdivisions which will flood,” Robertson said.

Robertson said the people living in the northern section that the city wants to annex could and would find a legal way to stop or delay annexation.

He said residents could and would mount a campaign against the vote.

“It would not be healthy for Jacksonville to find out what we can do,” he said.

“Why does Jacksonville want all that swamp and flood land anyway?”

Robertson asked that the city compromise and work together with area residents.

Alderman Kenny Elliot said the city was looking at compromises by making sure ordinances protecting the residents’ ways of life are on the books before the general election.

“I’ve talked to people on both sides of this issue and agree that we need to protect the rights of the rural landowners and everyone will be grandfathered in under their current use until their area is developed.”

He said ordinances would be in place before the election to put the residents’’’ minds at ease.

Alderman Marshall Smith, who along with Elliott will represent the northern land if it becomes part of the city, said that he stood ready to talk with the residents and to work with them to make this a smooth transition.

Alderman Terry Sansing took a different approach, saying that the packed house of anti-annexation people were not representative of the whole area. “I do not believe this is the feeling of 100 percent of the people,” he said.

He went on to say that many of the people in the area for the annexation were afraid to speak out for the ordinance because of the bully techniques of some of the anti-annexation residents.

Sansing read from an e-mail of a resident in the affected area who felt being part of Jacksonville was a good thing, but was afraid that if the person spoke up in public that his home would be vandalized.

Alderman Bob Stroud told the crowd that it was the council’s position to do what was best for Jacksonville. “Five years from now, you’ll be saying it’s really a good thing that you are in the city,” he said.

But some were still not pleased.

One business owner said he’d let his business burn to the ground before accepting help from Jacksonville Fire Department.

Another business owner, who lives in Cabot and will not be able to vote in the election, raised such a fuss over not getting to speak (even though he spoke at the three-hour public hearing Aug. 5) said that he was going back to Greystone and that he won’t live in Jacksonville, even though his business is in Jacksonville.

That prompted Jacksonville resident Jim Moore to tell the man that Jacksonville didn’t want him anyway. “Go back to Cabot and good riddance,” Moore said.

Now the council will work on various zoning ordinances to try and keep the area’s land use the way it is, and the residents will look at legal options.

Lost in all the hype is the .38 square mile to the south, which apparently has very little opposition to becoming a part of the city.

In fact, Alderman Reedie Ray told the council earlier this month that another section to the south of Valentine Road is ready and willing to become part of Jacksonville.