by Max Brantley
The Board of the Arkansas Schools for the Blind and Deaf last night rejected a proposal from Easter Seals to transfer its $1-a-year lease of almost 10 acres of Blind School land to Little Rock businessman John Chandler, who proposed to buy the former Easter Seals center on the property at the eastern end of Lee Avenue for business offices, including for his clothing business. A neighbor who's been following the developments and opposes office use, provides my report.
The neighbor, Joann Coleman, said the board also asked for more details on a later-developing proposal from Stephens Inc. executive Doug Martin to buy the property and use it solely for a single-family residence. Chandler agreed to pay $240,000 to Easter Seals for the building and transfer of the lease. Martin has proposed — though he has no contract — to pay $240,000 each to Easter Seals and the state, plus pay up to $500,000 to remove the old building, abandoned by Easter Seals when it built a new facility in western Little Rock.
FROM JOANN COLEMAN:
Chris Barrier (who represents Easter Seals) spoke for the Chandler proposal. He pointed out that Easter Seals and Chandler have entered into a "binding contract" for the transfer of the leasehold and explained the proposal.
Doug Martin spoke for his proposal. He explained that the original proposal split the money up 50/50 but of course it could be adjusted to satisfy Act 687 as to who should receive the proceeds.
Glenn Borkowski (president of the Hillcrest Residents Association) spoke on behalf of the residents and HRA. He pointed out the HRA supported Mr Martin's proposal.. That Mr. Chandler's had some unresolved zoning issues and wasn't appropriate for the neighborhood.
Neighbors — retired Justice David Newbern, Tommy Jameson and Carolyn Newbern — spoke for Mr. Martin's proposal.
The Board asked a few questions. Chandler's attorney, Tim Grooms, kept reminding everyone that Easter Seals and Chandler had a binding contract.
The parent respresentative on the Board asked whether it was legal for Easter Seals to enter to a contract before seeking the approval of the Board.
Both Board members members of public expressed concern that assuming the lease would allow the land to remain out of the city zoning and it would also avoid property taxes as state land.
Board Chairman Douglas Watson expressed concern over Chandler's proposal as a former student of the school. Mary Weeks, Board member, expressed concern as a former teacher and principal.
The Board voted unanimously to deny the transfer to Chandler and the change in use request as not being in the interest of the school or the state of Arkansas.
The Board voted to table Mr. Martin's proposal until legal issues including the division of the proceeds questions could be worked out.
The Board voted to get an outline of the legal restrictions, questions, divisions of the proceeds advice from counsel, Deputy AG Amanda Gibson, at next meeting. The Board included in this item whether Easter Seals has a valid leasehold under Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the lease.
Deputy AG Amanda Gibson is to work with Martin to iron out some of the legal issues.
Mr. Chandler's attorney requested that he be allowed to amend his proposal at the next meeting. It was pointed out that the transfer had been denied and an amendment was not in order.
The board took a break, and residents went out.
It is believed that Chandler is planning to offer another proposal at the next meeting in which he is going to add money for the Blind School.
I told the Board while I supported Martin if the legal issues couldn't be worked out that my offer to help write grants to get the building torn down [and the property, which sits across a deep ravine from school property, be converted to green space] still stood.