story by Kim Souza
On Monday (Nov. 5) Bella Vista Mayor Frank Anderson said the traffic light at Oldham Drive and U.S. 71 was not relevant to the rezoning issue on the ballot. But Wal-Mart notified The City Wire on Monday afternoon that without the traffic signal there is no deal in that location.
Residents have been voting for two weeks on the rezoning ordinance, which would have accommodated a proposed Walmart Neighborhood Market. The deal, according to Wal-Mart officials during the process, hinged upon a traffic light at the intersection that would serve the large scale development.
Anderson said it has never been about Wal-Mart, but what is the best use for the property, which is commercial. He said the planning commission agreed with that premise and the city council approved the rezoning based on what was the best use of that property, and only that.
But a Wal-Mart spokesman offered a different take on the relevance of the light.
“This past week Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department determined that it could not support a traffic signal at the intersection of U.S. Highway 71 and Oldham Drive,” Wal-Mart spokesman Daniel Morales noted in a statement. “From day one it was our intention to install a fully-actuated traffic signal at this intersection and make the appropriate improvements to make this intersection accessible for residents and our customers as they shopped our store. Without a traffic signal the intersection is not ideal and does not meet our typical standards of easy access for our customers. Therefore we will move to find a more suitable location that will allow us to serve our customers.”
Tony LiCausi, spokesman for Citizens for Responsible Development, said it is still extremely important for voters who would like to see a mixed-use project in that location to vote down the rezoning ordinance.
“Just because Wal-Mart says today they aren’t going to build there doesn’t mean some other big box won’t if the rezoning ordinance stands,” LiCausi said.
Anderson said the stoplight information wasn’t relevant to voters which is why he did not issue a press release when he got the news from the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department in an e-mail on Wednesday (Nov. 1)
Anderson said he had copies put in the Aldermen’s boxes ahead of Friday’s work session, (Nov. 2) and he told the Aldermen during that session. He does not know what happened to the original letter from the state which was mailed on Oct. 19 to his office.
Mitchell Archer, AHTD spokesman for the Harrison field office, confirmed the letter was mailed to Mayor Anderson on Oct. 19.
“When I met the mayor for breakfast on Wednesday (Oct.31) he told me he had never received the letter mailed two weeks prior. So, I had the office email him a copy that day,” Archer said.
The whereabouts of the original letter is still a mystery.
LiCausi said the rezoning issue on the ballot has never been about Wal-Mart, but any large-scale development that would require road widening and other infrastructure costs for the city taxpayers. It just so happened Wal-Mart was the big box inline to buy the property.
He said city officials had not been willing to fully discuss other development options for the property that might enhance businesses in the immediate area, not cannibalize them. LiCausi and the citizens group wants a government that represents their interests and seeks to improve residential property values.
Property owner Betty Garcia asked the city for the rezoning from R-1 to C-4 in June to accommodate a pending sale she had with Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart officials met with city planners to discuss the proposed plan in May. A subsequent town hall meeting was held prior to the planning commission’s vote to send the rezoning request to the council for vote.
In spite of large opposition, the planning commission and the local city council voted to rezone 6.44 acres of residential land to C-4 large scale development for property owner Betty Garcia, as her sales contract with Wal-Mart was contingent on that rezone and a stop light at Oldham and U.S. 71.