City planners dubious about concessions for new subdivision

Monday, July 18, 2005

Berryville -- While no formal action was taken Tuesday night at the Planning Commission meeting, the three members present were not overjoyed that the city intends to start issuing building permits for the Birch Tree Subdivision prior to formal acceptance of water, sewer and street improvements by the developer.

The proposed subdivision is located in the newly-annexed western edge of the city off County Road 426 and behind the Berryville Equipment Company site.

Commissioners present were Chairman Dan Fanning, Richard Kimberlin, and Quentin Font. Absent from the meeting were Don Burney and Don Rusterholtz

Commissioners reviewed correspondence between Public Works Director Kirby Murray and the project's consulting engineer concerning lack of city inspection of street, curb and gutter sub-grades as well as a lack of inspection by the city of water and sewer main bedding.

The correspondence further showed that responses from the project engineer to Murray's questions apparently satisfied the latter in that the work done did indeed meet the city's minimum standards. That information was further confirmed by a report from the field inspector for the independent testing company who conducted compaction tests on the project.

As a result of this exchange of information last week, City Administrator Jay Lee told commissioners that it was Mayor Tim McKinney's and Building Inspector Carl Goins' opinion that work had progressed sufficiently to allow the developer to start receiving building permits.

The project, to be constructed by Champion Builders of Little Rock, is to consist of 31 to 35 two- and three-bedroom single family dwellings of approximately 1,200 square feet. The developer plans to rent the units for the first 15 years through an on-site manager. After that time, according to Joseph, tenants will be offered first refusal to purchase the units.

The contractor has received permission to continue work on the streets and sidewalks by Murray, but progress has stalled on the construction of the sewage lift station, Lee reported. The hold-up, he said, came about because the engineers had designed the lift station to operate with two pumps connected to three-phase power. A check with the power company indicated running three-phase to the site would be cost prohibitive.

The design was then changed to operating the lift station with three pumps running on single-phase power. Those changes have been submitted to the Arkansas Health Department for approval. Should that approval be forthcoming, and the city's engineer concurs, work can progress on the lift station.

Even with construction being started on the houses early, they cannot be occupied until the city issues Certificates of Occupancy. And that, commissioners noted, will not occur until the infrastructure features are officially accepted by the city.

While commissioners agreed that it was not to their liking that concessions were to be extended to the contractor contrary to city ordinances, they declined to express their displeasure to the mayor.

One commissioner said he thought the city was "opening a Pandora's Box" by granting any building permits prior to the city's acceptance of infrastructure improvements. The developer had previously asked the Planning Commission to grant such an exception and they refused. He further added that the city should treat all developers equally, and not grant exceptions to city ordinances to one and not to others.

Lee's suggestion that some people think the city is becoming a difficult environment for developers, received little agreement from the commissioners. Instead, one commissioner said planners in the city of Harrison said they wished Harrison had enacted ordinances similar to Berryville when they started growing years ago. The planners said they would probably not be facing some present day problems with developments had they done so.

In another discussion, commissioners voiced concern that they were not receiving regular information from the Building Inspector on the number of building permits issued, who they were issued to and the dollar amount of new construction. They directed Lee to ask inspector Goins to provide the above information to the commission on a quarterly basis.

Finally, both Lee and the commissioners expressed concern about the lack of a new zoning map. About six months ago, they agreed to allow Charles McCutcheon of Harrison to take over creation of a new zoning map, since he was involved in surveying of newly annexed land on the west side of the city. To date, no such map has been presented by McCutcheon. Lee was directed to contact McCutcheon and request that at least a base map showing the annexations be presented to the commission at their September meeting.

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