Citizens for Responsible Development, a Bella Vista group, says it has collected roughly 3,000 signatures calling for a referendum petition to halt their city council’s spot-zoning efforts last month.
The action group was given 30 days to collect 1,322 signatures from registered voters and property owners to get the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Tony LiCausi, spokesman for the group, sought out legal help from the Slinkard Law Firm in Rogers to draw up this petition for referendum in hopes reversing the rezoning and ultimately halting the development of a large commercial project - like the proposed Walmart Neighborhood Market.
“We want the citizens here to have their say since their concerns were not addressed prior to the rezoning and now reclassification of Oldham Drive for a Walmart Neighborhood Market,” said Harry “Butch” Newby, a retired lawyer and former city attorney in Minnesota who moved to Bella Vista in 1985.
Newby said signatures are still being taken at various locations and he will turn them into the city clerk next week ahead of the deadline.
LiCausi and Newby spearheaded the new group after 2,600 people signed a petition expressing concerns about the rezoning prior to the planning commission and city council voting on the issue last month.Newby said these petitions were disregarded as the vote cleared both bodies with little to no discussion among the council members prior to voting. He said the citizens just wanted the city to slow down and take time to study the traffic impact and evaluate the property and surrounding safety issues for the immediate neighborhood.
Contrary to claims made by Mayor Frank Anderson on local television, the group says the petition for referendum “is not a petition against Wal-Mart – this is a petition against the rezoning of this particular parcel of land due to type of development causing severe environmental and safety issues for our city.”
Mayor Anderson told The CIty Wire content partner KFSM Wednesday: “Those opposing the change worry that if Wal-Mart builds a grocery store along Oldham Drive, it would be in direct competition to the local grocery store, Allen’s Food Market. Wal-Mart has announced a desire to open a store on Oldham Drive, but it hasn’t presented a plan to the city.”
Anderson was out of the office Thursday and not available for comment, an e-mail request for comment was unreturned as well.
Wal-Mart spokesman Daniel Morales says the company has been working with city planners and city officials for several months on the proposed Neighborhood Market. The real estate deal is still pending. Wal-Mart called a meeting with city planners in early June and released their proposed plan.
Morales said recently that he understood the citizens had issues with the city council and not Wal-Mart.
The city has increased the speed limit along Oldham from 20 miles an hour to 30 miles an hour and then posted several signs of dangerous intersections along the steep and narrow two-lane shoulderless roadway, according to local residents.
Residents who live in the immediate area feel the city is trying to increase traffic along Oldham as to justify the reclassification of the street which the council approved Monday night (July 23).
Alderman Doug Farner said at Monday’s meeting he would like to have a traffic study by the state highway commission but didn’t see any reason to hold up the vote when they knew Oldham was already a busy street based on study completed by Wal-Mart.
“I did talk with the mayor earlier this week about requesting a highway department study and think it would be good,” Farner said today (July 26).
The citizen group released the following statement Thursday (July 26): “The Citizens for Responsible Development express their encouragement of future city growth, but discourage this particular parcel of land being rezoned to C-4 without providing any buffer between the C-4 commercial and the R-1 residential adjacent properties. The rezoning possibly causes safety hazards to the citizens, the loss of property value for several residents, the future cost to our city for expanding the roads and water provision, increase sewer and drainage issues, and cause harm to the creeks surrounding the property caused by runoff and drainage.”
“People need to know the city violated their own land use plan when they hurriedly rushed this rezoning through and if they do it my neighborhood who’s to say it won’t happen in others,” Newby said.