Tuesday, February 15, 2011

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville tries smaller annexation

Leader staff writer

Voters turned down Jacksonville’s efforts to annex about four square miles north of the city last November, but it looks like the city will get about half of that through voluntary annexation.

The city will more than likely pick up the entire business corridor on both sides of Hwy. 67/167 from the northern city limits to the Lonoke County line. For a voluntary or “quiet” annexation to work, at least 51 percent of the residents, representing at least 51 percent of the land, must ask, in writing, to come into the city. There is no public vote.

“Right now we’ve got about 70 percent of the owners representing about 80 percent of the property,” said Jim Durham, the city’s director of administration.

Durham personally visited nearly every one of those owners, and a few who did not sign on in an effort to bring about the annexation.

“Even though there is no vote, we still must have a public hearing before the council is authorized to approve the annexation,” Durham said.

That public hearing is tentatively set for 7 p.m., March 3 at city hall. The city council will lock in that date at its meeting on Thursday.

“Every business will be allowed to come in as they are and owners can sell their businesses to others who can continue to operate them,” Durham said. But for that to happen, the planning commission had to approve new zoning categories for the city, a C-5 and an M-2.

A C-5 zone will be the only place within city limits that a person can operate a retail or wholesale business for packaged liquor. “Those liquor stores along Hwy. 67/167, like Ace Liquor, will come in with a C-5 zoning, even the new liquor store being built next to Ace because it has already been approved by the Alcohol Beverage Control Board and at a time the city had limited control in that area.

“Lots of people think that Jacksonville is dry,” said Durham, “but only Gray Township, which is about two-thirds of Jacksonville, is dry. These liquor stores are in the wet area of the county and with the new zoning, will be legal once they come into the city,” he said.

The second zoning recently created by the planning commission is M-2 for adult-oriented businesses. Businesses like Cupid’s and Sensations on the west side of Hwy. 67/167 will come into the city with this zoning. “The only place these type of businesses can operate in are M-2 zones and those will be the only ones besides Austin Ready Mix which will come in tagged M-2, because that’s the only zone that allows cement factories.

The city council could approve the annexation at its meeting following the public hearing. The annexation would also have to be approved by Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines, and if all goes according to plan, the northern strip could be part of Jacksonville by May.

And as it becomes part of Jacksonville, the city will benefit from the $1 million in sales those businesses generate.

The proposed annexation is just of the business corridor with the exception of a few properties touching the back of the highway frontage whose owners wanted to be part of the city.

The city lost by about 300 votes Nov. 2 in its effort to annex two sections of land into the city. Both city residents and those in the affected areas voted. One section, to the north along Hwy. 67/167, was about 3.82 square miles, while the other section to the south of the city along Hwy. 161 included 0.38 square mile of land.

The November effort brought about a number of fractious meetings which included one arrest.This time the city expects a much more peaceful, positive result.