story by Kim Souza
Editor's note: This story will be updated later today in an attempt to address the numerous versions of when the highway department letter was received by the city of Bella Vista. State highway officials say the letter was mailed Oct. 18, and city officials say they did not receive the letter until Nov. 1.
Just days before the election that includes a vote on a controversial Walmart development in Bella Vista, questions have been raised about what Bella Vista Mayor Frank Anderson may have known about a critical piece of information related to the development.
Residents of Bella Vista have been voting without all the facts for the past two weeks, with respect to the Rezoning Ordinance 2012 10 at Oldham Drive and U.S. 71.
The proposed development of a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market at the location calls for a stoplight to be placed at intersection of Oldham and U.S. 71.
Mayor Anderson said on the record at a council meeting earlier this week he had not heard anything from the state about the traffic light or the traffic count requests made several weeks ago.
Updated info: City officials now say they did not receive a letter until Nov. 1, although it was mailed by the AHTD on Oct. 18. The City Wire is requesting information from council members and city officials about when documents were received and provided to the council members.
Alderman Jerry Snow revealed a letter addressed to the Mayor from the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department dated Oct. 18, that denies the city’s request for a traffic light at Oldham Drive and U.S. 71.
Snow said he found the copy of the letter in his box at the city offices Friday afternoon (Nov. 2). The letter copy was received by the city Oct. 19 as indicated by the clerk’s initials and date stamp.
“I plainly asked the Mayor in open session Monday evening (Oct. 29) if the city had received word from the state and was told he had not,” Snow said.
Mayor Anderson did not return three messages left on his cell phone and at his home Friday evening.
A concerned group – Citizens for Responsible Development – worked to obtain 4,000 signatures from residents to get a referendum regarding the Rezoning Ordinance on the ballot. They did so after the city council approved the rezoning for Wal-Mart’s proposed site, in spite of heavy opposition.
The group hopes to vote down the rezoning ordinance so that more discussion can take place about alternative options for development.
Citizens for Responsible Development released this statement Friday evening after learning about the withheld information by Mayor Anderson.
“Mayor Anderson and some others on the council likely withheld the information as they knew many were voting for the rezoning to get a stoplight at Oldham to help the traffic problems. By withholding the information they could try to influence the outcome and try to ensure passage of the rezoning.”
Signs posted near the intersection and along Oldham Drive read “FIX THIS INTERSECTION VOTE FOR ORDINANCE NO. 2012 10", which is on the local ballot as Rezoning Ordinance 2012 10.
That so-called fix hinged on a stop light at the intersection that would accommodate a proposed Walmart Neighborhood Market contingent on the rezoning of 6.44 acres of residential land to large scale commercial use.
Both sides of the rezoning issue agree the intersection is one of the most dangerous along U.S. 71 because of the number of businesses and heavy traffic in that commercial district.
Wal-Mart spokesman Daniel Morales said several months ago the company’s answer to the traffic issue would be to put a traffic light at the intersection and allow for a wider entrance to the store from Oldham that would include a turn lane.
In recent weeks the city planning commission began to entertain another scenario that calls for an extension of Dartmoor Road to the west where there is already a stop light. The extension would also connect to a rerouted Oldham Drive that would run behind the proposed development site.
Snow said this scenario would mean the entrance from Oldham onto U.S. 71 would be closed and traffic rerouted via the Dartmoor west extension.
A survey of 54 residents who attended the planning session earlier this week found 26 favored the city’s plan to extend Dartmoor to the west and reroute a portion of Oldham.
“Our office and drive into our property is in the path of the proposed extended Dartmoor Road to the west, so naturally I have been attending the most recent meeting by the zoning committee. My husband and I are not against the extension as long as we are compensated for our property and loss of business,” Anne Mathis, owner of Century 21 Real Estate office in Bella Vista noted in an email.
Snow said only if the rezoning ordinance stands after the all the votes are counted, will the city likely move forward on the Dartmoor west plan.