Members of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority board got an earful last week at meetings with two neighborhood associations where homes could be blasted away to make room for a 30-acre biotech and nanotech park. If they didn't know these folks don't want to lose their property before, they do now.
Speakers at the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association, where a "Not for Sale" yard sign and sticker campaign has taken off, on Thursday hammered the board for nearly 45 minutes before opening a question and answer session. Emotional residents talked about their years in the neighborhood, the American right to hold property and their anger over the possibility the Authority would exercise its right of eminent domain to uproot them.
Some residents spoke heatedly — one woman said the dislocation of the neighborhood was part of a pattern of making the poor suffer for the goals of the upper class — but the low point of the evening came when Authority board member Bob Johnson told the crowd of mostly black, lower-middle class residents that he had been in their shoes in the 1990s when a utility "was abusing eminent domain" and he had to fight to protect his Pawpaw's land. He thereby compared the residents of Forest Hills, just south of Interstate 630 between Elm and Monroe, to Deltic Timber, which sought to take Central Arkansas Water's right of eminent domain away so it could make big bucks developing big homes in the watershed of the city's drinking water supply.
The Fair Park Neighborhood Association's meeting with the board was strictly Q and A, a calm event with only the occasional flare of temper. 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. In fact, questions from the membership were pointed: Will the board members disclose their own financial holdings, as do members of the Airport Commission and the Planning Commission? The answer from Dr. Mary Good and Dickson Flake: Under law, we don't have to. (The answer could have been, we don't have to but we will — but it wasn't.) 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 (a point raised at the Forest Hills meeting as well)? (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.)
State Sen. Joyce Elliott attended both meetings, telling the board that the market value of a home should be the minimum starting point in deliberations with landowners over the sale price of their homes.