The Citizens for Responsible Development delivered Tuesday (July 31) on an earlier promise to collect and provide more than 3,000 signatures in an attempt to reverse a city zoning decision that will allow construction of a Walmart Neighborhood Market.
The new store is planned for construction in what will be a larger new commercial development area at Oldham Drive and U.S. 71. More than 2,600 people signed a petition asking the board to not rezone the residential road, but a 6 to 1 vote by the Bella Vista Board cleared the way for the project.
Tony LiCausi, a spokesman for the group, sought out legal help from the Slinkard Law Firm in Rogers to draw up this petition for referendum. Harry “Butch” Newby, a retired lawyer and former city attorney in Minnesota who moved to Bella Vista in 1985, has also pushed the effort.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Newby said the group has gathered 3,780 signatures needed to meet the required 1,322 to get the issue on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
“We turned them in at 10 this morning and it took them until 1 (p.m.) to count them,” Newby said. “We did all that in 19 days, it might have been 20, but that’s a lot of signatures to collect by a small group of volunteers in that short a period of time.”
The city has 10 days to review the signatures, ballot title and other details.
Bella Vista Mayor Frank Anderson has said the effort is an attempt to block Walmart and thereby protect local merchants. But LiCausi, Newby and others have said the issue is about appropriate development.
“It is NOT about the people against Walmart,” notes a statement sent Tuesday by Newby (See complete statement below). “Matter of fact, most of us working on the petition are Walmart shoppers, some are shareholders of Walmart stock and some are employed by or have family employed by Walmart. We are NOT against Walmart!”
FULL STATEMENT BY HARRY “BUTCH” NEWBY
“We want you to know that we LOVE Bella Vista. This Petition for Referendum that we are here to present to the city today was not our choice of action.
When the city announced they were discussing the rezoning the property on Hwy 71 and Oldham Drive from residential to C-4 – the highest level of commercial development, we wanted conversation with our city leaders. We presented over 2100 signatures of concerned citizens to the Planning Commission before any decision was made. We wanted our City to slow down and study the impact of rezoning the parcel of land from residential to highest use commercial – before they rezoned it. We were not listened to.
We wanted to talk to the Aldermen and were not granted an audience. We wanted them to study the impact before rezoning and allowing Walmart to go forward with their project. We attended the City Council meeting and, again, we presented a citizens’ petition - this time with over 2600 signatures of citizens that were concerned enough to sign the petition asking the City to do the studies BEFORE rezoning. We were told by the city that it was only rezoning and not about Walmart. However, they were continuing to meet with Walmart and discuss the proposed venture. Then the council stated that they did not wish to hear any more from the people and they waived the normal 2nd and 3rd hearings – for emergency reasons – and they knew all they needed to know. We were not listened to by the City Council.
That left us with this Referendum Petition ordeal. And it has been an ordeal… it has taken a great deal of volunteer effort to bring to the city over 3700 signatures to bring the rezoning to a vote in the November election. This time it will allow the citizens to vote if any C-4, large scale, big box, retail development should be allowed on the parcel.
The City Council chose not to listen to the citizens of Bella Vista; they did not need us to make their decision. Well, today, we offer 3766 signatures of voters in Bella Vista that disagree with that.
We would like to tell you a couple of important facts about this petition:
1. It is NOT about the people against Walmart. Matter of fact, most of us working on the petition are Walmart shoppers, some are shareholders of Walmart stock and some are employed by or have family employed by Walmart. We are NOT against Walmart!
2. It is NOT about supporting Allen’s Foods as the Mayor has stated, we are supporting the health of Bella Vista as originally planned and protecting what we will become by thoughtful and intelligent planning.
3. It IS about the parcel of land that has now been rezoned to C-4 - the highest use of commercial development, on Hwy 71 and Oldham Drive and what the property SHOULD be used for.
4. It IS about the fact that we sincerely believe that this land could be rezoned to limit any large scale business that would cause severe traffic hazards and safety issues Also to be considered are the maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars that it will cost the taxpayers to widen Oldham Drive, the loss of home values to the immediate neighborhood, loss of home owners’ property to the right-of-way needs, and for some, even the loss of their homes.
5. It IS about the way this has been handled by our city government. No traffic studies, no environmental studies, no listening to the people, just rezone to highest commercial use with no buffer between that and residential property.
6. It IS about determining who and what Bella Vista is now and will be in the future. A Land Use Plan is not a Comprehensive City Plan and vision of the future. Why are we developing BEFORE we even know what our future should look like. Whatever happened to the 2010 promise of a strategic plan?
So we are here today, once again, to see that our city takes time to plan the future – with care and concern. We are truly sorry that it has taken a Referendum Petition to VOTE to make the city slow down – and we sincerely hope we can work together – citizens and those we elected to office – to continue a future of our beautiful Bella Vista.
Citizens for Responsible Development, Bella Vista, AR, have gathered more than 3700 signatures of the required 1322 signatures by registered voters in Bella Vista to place the rezoning of the parcel of land at Hwy 71 and Oldham Road on the November 6. 2012, ballot.
This REFERENDUM PETITION, offers the citizens of Bella Vista the opportunity to halt the spot-zoning of the property at Highway 71 and Oldham Drive and allow the building of a Walmart Neighborhood Market on the land.
Citizens for Responsible Development moved forward on this REFERENDUM PETITION as the Bella Vista Planning Commission and City Council voted to rezone the formerly R-1 property to C-4 to accommodate the Walmart Neighborhood Market project.
Previously, the group presented petitions expressing the concerns of people to both the Planning Commission and the City Council requesting that they slow down the rezoning and allow more time to study and evaluate the property and surrounding safety issues. Petitions were disregarded as the vote cleared both bodies.
This second petition, a PETITION FOR REFERENDUM, has been drawn up by attorneys to officially halt the rezoning and place the matter to a vote in November.
The Citizens for Responsible Development express their encouragement of future city growth, but in a responsible manner that would match the vision of Bella Vista. Our City has yet to develop a Comprehensive Plan of growth and development. No Strategic Plan has come forth. The Land Use Plan that was developed pointedly describes in over 21 areas that a large development of the Walmart type is not a fit for the property at Hwy 71 and Oldham.
The Citizens for Responsible Development 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. Spokesperson, Tony LiCausi of Bella Vista states: “This is NOT a petition against Walmart – 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.”