by Max Brantley
He calls attention to a little discussed proposal on the North Little Rock City Council agenda Monday night to sell city-owned former quarry land along the River Trail below Emerald Park to Real Estate Commercial 1 Inc. (not further identified on the Council agenda) for $1.2 million.
JBar says the land will become a multiuse development. He's concerned that the plan for access to the property would close the River Trail to vehicular traffic.
While I'm not against center-city development, certainly preferring it to urban sprawl, I think most of us perceived this as valuable park space and once it is gone, it is gone forever. Take a look at the impasse at Dillard's on the other side of the river and we can see how giving up this narrow strip between the Big Rock and the river may have serious implications. I am not placated by a statement that says "well, the trail stays". Damn right. The River Trail is the very reason that this property has become valuable and I do not want to see it compromised. At first glance, the deal smells sneaky and I feel more than a little betrayed.
It appears that I'm waving a warning flag on something that is a done deal, but the lack of public discussion on this smells. I fear that the view from Emerald Park will become a view of rooftops and parking lots and that would be a sad legacy to the last days of Pat Hays's tenure.
I'll make some calls today. Anybody else have details?
UPDATE: I talked with Mayor Pat Hays and got a history lesson in the city's acquisition of the land years ago and a period when there was talking of building a performance space for music and other purposes. The limited access made its use for a mass attendance facility a non-starter he said.
Now, he said, he has a proposal to build 200 to 300 condos or apartments on the roughly 20 to 30 buildable acres there, with some light commercial uses and perhaps a marina on the river. North Little rock Realtor Byron McKimmey is leading the group, Hays said.
Hays said he was inclined to support the plan, but he noted the City Council was divided about developing the property at one time. He said there won't be a vote Monday and likely not at the next Council meeting either. "I want to run it up the flagpole," he said.
Hays emphasized that the river bike/hike trail was "sacrosanct." He said he wouldn't vote for any plant that put a vehicle or other crossing in the way of trail traffic. As a consequence, he said the investment group had drawn a plan to take the existing trail up several feet on existing topography and then use a bridge or other means to pass over a path between the development and the river. He said he'd told developers the trail not only couldn't be adversely affected, "it had to be improved." I'm trying to get a copy of the site plan.
River Road now deadends at the property. But work is underway now to close a portion of River Road and use a newly built extension of Third Street to reach that property.
City Commerce Director Joe Smith provided me with a presentation on the proposed Bluffs development, including the schematic drawings below of overpassing the bike trail.