Friday, November 28, 2014

TOP STORY >> Historic station requests more parking space

Leader staff writer

The Sherwood City Council this week heard one reading of a proposal to spend about $14,000 on a property near the historic Roundtop filling station to build a parking lot for visitors.

Two more readings — three total — are required before the council can vote to adopt an ordinance.

The 1936 station is being restored for $192,000. Two Arkansas Historic Preservation Program grants, worth a total of $128,000, were provided for the project. The city, the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce and private donations came up with the required matching amounts.

The project is expected to wrap up before the end of this year.

Alderman Ken Keplinger asked the council to approve the property purchase because 148 people visited the building on Nov. 7, when it was featured in the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s “Walks Through History: Sandwiching in History” tour.

He said, “There was absolutely zero parking. The place was so congested.”

Keplinger added that Metropolitan Bank and Trust would consider donating another nearby parcel if the city buys the property that is for sale now.

He also noted that, in addition to parking, the property could eventually be transformed into a park.

That suggestion sparked objection from Aldermen Mary Jo Heye and Charles Harmon.

Heye said, “No real need has been established that we need to, at this time, to put ina parking lot or do any type of expansion out there.”

She pointed out that it is possible people will just drive by the building when it opens as a police substation. The grants required that the station have a designated purpose.

Heye also said the city spent $90,000 on a master park study that resulted in a comprehensive plan that puts parks where the most people can be served by them.

She said the Roundtop and property surrounding is on the far edge of the city limits.

Heye also said the site has a long history of vandalism, and police are investigating an attempted arson that happened there in early November.

She complained that, when the council agreed to put up funds for matching the grants, the aldermen were told the site wouldn’t be vandalized.

Heye also said, if a park is built out there, it should be placed near the Trammel Estates subdivision that is closer to city limits but on the same road as the Roundtop.

The alderman argued that a private company could put in private or paid parking if needed. “It’s not the job of government to do what small business can do,” Heye said.

Another concern she had was that purchasing the land also means spending the money to maintain it or turn it into parking.

And, she added, “We don’t know what the future is really going to hold for that property.”

Heye said buying the property would not be a wise way to spend the city’s money because there are neighborhoods that need street and drainage improvements.

She said she’d been told Sherwood didn’t have the money to do those. “We seem to have the money for miscellaneous projects but not the necessities of our community.”

The proposal is “not fiscally responsible,” Heye remarked.

Alderman Marina Brooks disagreed. She said, “I think we have an opportunity with Roundtop to develop it more and to have attractions out there.”

But Harmon agreed with Heye. He said he wasn’t prepared to vote for the proposal and that “parks follow rooftops.”

Keplinger was asked how long the property had been for sale. He responded that he didn’t know.

Alderman Tim McMinn seemed to side with Heye in her lack-of-a-need claim. He said he didn’t know how many special functions would be held and whether people would be allowed inside once it opens as a substation.

Harmon then asked Keplinger to provide the council with prices of similar properties so that aldermen can decide whether $14,000 is a good deal on that piece of land.

In other business:

 The council passed a resolution supporting TeleTech’s participation in the state’s Tax Back Program. TeleTech is the inbound customer service call center for health-insurance providers that opened at 2402 Wildwood Ave. over the summer and brought 250 jobs to the city.

City Attorney Steve Cobb explained at the council meeting this week that the moving expenses – hiring staff, renovating its facility, etc. — of a new business or one that is relocating are taxable.

While Sherwood is limited in the incentives it can offer, Cobb continued, the state has more options — like the Tax Back Program.

TeleTech qualifies for that program but city support is required for the company to participate in it.

Now, with council-approval, TeleTech can get back a significant portion of the taxes that it has paid for expenses of moving and opening in Sherwood.

Cobb said that amount might be as much as 5 percent out of the 6 percent the company paid in taxes.

He added, before the vote, that the council had passed similar resolutions in the past, including one that helped Galley Support Innovations.

 The council passed an ordinance authorizing Utility Service Partners Private Label, Inc., doing business as Service Line Warranties of America, to use the city’s logo and letterhead in creating a solicitation letter.

The company will offer policies to Sherwood residents that will help them pay to repair external sewer lines or to replace external sewer lines. Participation is optional, and the program is not offered through the city.

 The council held the first reading of an ordinance that proposes an 8.5 percent increase in sewer rates, which equates to about $1.60 more per month on the average bill. There was no discussion.