In contrast to the Forest Hills meeting Thursday, the Fair Park Neighborhood Association's get together with the Little Rock Technology Park Authority board this a.m. was a calm event with only the occasional flair of temper. The civility was due to the way Brian Kennerly, president of the association, conducted the meeting: Only questions were allowed, not statements. Forest Hills, on the other hand, allowed members to speak first and frankly about their dismay over the board's right of eminent domain to take their homes to build the 30 acre technology park.
That doesn't mean the association members gathered at U.S. Pizza on Fair Park were eager to see the park located in their neighborhood or that they were happy with the way the Authority is choosing land to build on. In fact, questions from the membership were pointed:
Such as: Will the board members disclose on their own financial holdings, as do members of the Airport Commission and the Planning Commission? The answer: Under law, we don't have to. The answer could have been, we don't have to but we will — but it wasn't.
And: What other locations were considered and rejected by the consultants hired to prepare a feasibility study on the park? (Don't know that there were any.) What about the fact that a map that shows that there are many places to go within five minutes that don't include residential areas? (Needs to be between UAMS, UALR and Arkansas Children's Hospital.)
Why not War Memorial Park Golf Course? ("I'm not getting into that," board chair Dr. Mary Good told fellow board member Dr. Michael Douglas during the din that followed the question. Pressed to answer when the room quieted down, Good said she didn't know if the golf course was large enough. It's 90 acres; the park Authority says it needs 30 acres.)
Why did the board gerrymander the border of "area C" (the area including the Methodist Children's Home adjacent to the UALR campus) around Popatop Liquor? (Board member and realtor Dickson Flake said it was because it wasn't necessary because the property, across Coleman Creek, was unusual, a slightly different answer from the one he gave me a couple of weeks ago: It's commercial property. $.)
Sen. Joyce Elliott, whose backyard touches the boundary of one of the suggested areas, asked whether the Authority board would provide homeowners help in negotiations, since the board — Flake's a realtor after all — is likely to know far more about buying and selling homes than Fair Park residents. (We want to treat everyone fairly.)
City Director Ken Richardson, who represents Ward 2, which Fair Park is part of, noted an error in the Arkansas Times cover story this week quoting him as saying he wanted the "something done for the community." What he actually said, he told the gathering, was that he wanted something done with the community (fixed online, by the way). "We want our hands on the steering wheel," Richardson said. He said residents have stayed with the neighborhood through hard times and it wasn't right "to push them out" at a time when the neighborhood is coming back.
In fact, if anything persuaded the board, it was the organization of the neighborhood association, which before it started the Q&A with the board announced it had sent 30 welcome packets to new residents of the neighborhood, all new in the past six weeks, news about the SNAP program that helps people on fixed incomes fix up their homes, a thank you to volunteers who went out and cleaned up areas last weekend for the City Beautiful event, a progress report on the University Community Development District's purchase of lots around Franklin School where it will build affordable homes and a request for nominations for best yard of the month.