The 10 mostly wooded and highly coveted acres immediately behind the Arkansas School for the Blind are being looked at once more for development, this time for single-family homes.
Architect David W. Sargent with Witsell Evans Rasco met with Jim Hill, superintendent for the School for the Blind, last week to gauge the school's willingness to sell. The developer, who Sargent declined to identify, is considering creating 18 50-by-150-foot lots and four larger lots on Lee Avenue and Berry Street. Homes on the smaller lots would range from $300,000 to $400,000; the larger houses would go for around $700,000.
“I asked them, ‘Who said the land is for sale?' ” Hill said. The reply was Easter Seals.
Easter Seals, which holds a lease on the property, has been trying since its move to West Little Rock more than a decade ago to sell its old headquarters, located at the east end of Lee Avenue. There has been no interest in buying the building apart from the land, which would require state approval.
Easter Seals once said the building was worth $2.1 million, but has been willing to take a fourth of that in recent years. The last bid came in 2006, when two psychiatrists who have office space in the building offered $700,000, with some $515,000 of that going to Easter Seals.
As it has previous offers, the school's board of trustees turned the psychiatrists down, citing security. The school's dormitory is located on the southern boundary of the 10 acres.
Hill also thinks the land — some of the last developable acreage in a desirable neighborhood — is worth far more than has been offered. Hill said he told Sargent and Scott Smith, an architect and former head of the Hillcrest Residents Association, “I was not going to agree to any sale that gave a majority of the money to Easter Seals.” If the board instructed him to sell, Hill said, he'd go “to every committee in the legislature to make sure we got a fair deal.”
The new development plan would require the old Easter Seals headquarters be torn down, work that Hill estimated could cost as much as $500,000 because the building contains asbestos.
Hill said he was told the developer might be interested in developing only the northern part of the property off Lee to allay the school's security concerns.
Sargent told the Times the developer wanted to meet with neighbors of the property and the Hillcrest Residents Association before going forward with an offer. Previous plans involving multiple-unit housing have met stiff neighborhood resistance.