story by Kim Souza
Again Monday (July 23) the Bella Vista City Council faced concerned residents who don’t want a Walmart Neighborhood Market built along Oldham Drive.
And again the council voted to pave the way for Wal-Mart by amending the city’s master street plan and reclassify Oldham Drive as a heavier traveled road that will require widening if the proposed store comes to fruition.
Alderman Jerry Snow proposed that the council order a traffic study from the Arkansas State Highway Commission before reclassifying roads that feed into U.S. 71.
“The Highway Commission said no study has been requested but they would be happy to accommodate the city and look into traffic flow and congestion issues common to Highway 71 and the busy feeder roads,” Snow told the council Monday.
He made a motion to table the street reclassification of Oldham Drive until an independent traffic study could be completed in the next 90 days given the concerned citizens who reside in the immediate neighborhood.
Alderman James Wozniack seconded the motion, but it died as the remaining council members voted to proceed with the reclassification.
The first 850 feet of Oldham Drive from U.S. 71 was reclassified as “minor arterial” based a recommendation from Walmart and a traffic study completed by them, according to city planning director Chris Suneson. The remaining portion of Oldham Drive to the intersection at Chelsea Road was reclassified as a “collector” road suitable for 4,000 cars per day, according to the Walmart study and proposal.
That said, additional right-of-ways would have to be purchased before any widening beyond the first 850 feet.
When Alderman Snow asked the council why the hurry to amend code without a formal independent study, Alderman Earl Berdine said he didn’t see what another study could accomplish when they already know it’s a busy road.
After the council voted 4 to 2 to approve the reclassification, Alderman Doug Farner said he would like to have the Highway Commission traffic study and he would see Mayor Frank Anderson Tuesday (July 24) about requesting one.
Harry Newby, a concerned citizen who resides in the neighborhood near the proposed Walmart Neighborhood Market and subsequent road widening, said the five homes on one side of the Oldham and two on the other side will see land taken and the road coming within six feet of the home located at 1 Oldham Drive, when the right-of-ways are taken for the road widening.
He again asked the council to slow down and consider the property values of these seven homes the city could end up owning if they are condemned and taken via eminent domain. Newby is no stranger to city government, he spent more than three decades as a city attorney in Minnesota before retiring to Bella Vista.
Suneson assured the council that Wal-Mart would cover the cost of their half of the road and any of the right-of-ways needed from the center stripe to their side of the property, based on the plan they have submitted. This plan requires a left turn lane into their property from Oldham Drive.
James Heath, a resident who also lives in the immediate neighborhood impacted from proposed large scale commercial development, told the council he believes the citizens’ and property owners’ concerns have “fallen of deaf ears and decisions have been made leaving tax payers in the dark.”
“You don’t listen to the people and have abused your power,” Heath said.
Alderman Farner answered, “I have listened and heard, I just don’t agree and I have that right.”
At last count the Citizens for Responsible Development has amassed nearly 3,000 signatures and were still seeking more ahead of the approaching deadline to give registered voters a chance to undo something they say the majority did not want — the rezoning of 6.44 acres to make way for a Walmart Neighborhood Market. The citizens group only need get 1,322 signatures of registered voters to get the issue on the ballot in November.
“We aren’t taking any chances, we know some will be thrown out so we want to make sure we have the required amount,” Newby said.
The acreage was rezoned last month amid dozens of concerned citizens who spoke out against the issue because of added traffic to an already dangerous and heavily traveled road. If the group is successful at getting the petition for referendum on the ballot, the citizens of Bella Vista could overturn the rezoning of the 6.44 acres.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has a pending contract to purchase the property contingent on the rezoning. The proposed 40,000-square-foot store would have a four-pump gas station and be open 24 hours a day, according to Walmart spokesman Daniel Morales.