North Little Rock has approved an ordinance rezoning property to allow for industrial development within the city, but some residents want to make sure officials don't forget about history for the sake of progress.
The City Council voted unanimously last week to approve an ordinance that rezoned property located at 13001 Highway 70 from single family to light industrial at the request of Thomas Engineering Company.
Company officials told the City Council plans for the property haven't been finalized, but it is estimated the development will bring 500 jobs to the city.
Jane Cather Nilz and John Cather, siblings who own the Alexander Schaer House, emailed their concerns to the City Council about the potential development before a vote was taken. They spoke about their family roots in the area, which go back several generations.
"As historic private property owners, we can not help but be concerned over the planned warehouse/distribution center proposed for the former farm land abutting our property," the email read. "We have been advised that our real estate property value will plummet and we dread the prospect of warehouse noise, lights, water runoff, traffic, and additional wear and tear on State Highway 70. We also have environmental concerns about the surrounding wetlands and the oxbow lake across the highway."
The siblings asked City Council members to take their concerns into consideration while evaluating the proposed engineering plans for the warehouse/distribution center.
"We have listed our property for sale in the past but recently we have been exploring the prospect of periodically using our wonderful home as a potential event center," the email stated. "We are now being told that the proposed warehouse/distribution center could have a huge negative impact on the sale price and/or attracting groups to our property. ... Any additional considerations you can give to assist us in protecting our historic property value would be greatly appreciated."
Rachel Patton, executive director for Preserve Arkansas, the statewide nonprofit advocate for historic preservation and a downtown resident of North Little Rock, also voiced concerns about the development in an email to City Council members. She urged city officials to take additional steps to minimize the adverse effects of light industrial development on the Schaer House and Hill Lake located adjacent to the rezoned property.
"While I want North Little Rock to benefit from the proposed light industrial development intended for the site in question, I implore you to consider additional measures that will protect the integrity of one of Galloway's few remaining historic properties, as well as the environmental integrity of Hill Lake," she said. "In particular, a greenbelt wider than 50 feet around the house to minimize light and noise pollution and addressing water run-off issues that will negatively impact flora and fauna at Hill Lake and potentially cause flooding if an extensive amount of the acreage in question is paved."
Thomas Engineering Company officials told the City Council the rezoned land will have a 50-foot greenbelt buffer and the effect on the historic areas would be minimal.
Jane Cather Nilz told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Wednesday that she isn't opposed to North Little Rock's expansion and industrial development. She just wanted the City Council to minimize the impact that particular types of development will have on their personal property.
"Since no one has shared with us exactly what size, type or even the company that is potentially planning the warehouse, we can only request that the North Little Rock City Engineers fully evaluate the future site plans and take our historic personal property into consideration," she said. "...We want our very legitimate concerns taken into consideration by all parties involved in the future development of the Galloway area."
Patton said in an interview Thursday that she also wasn't opposed to the development of the site. She said she wants additional steps to be taken and wants the City Council to be aware of the historical significance of the home and the wetlands in the area.
"That is nearly 400 acres of rezoning for light industrial, and I know it's supposed to bring in 500 employees and that is great, but I am not sure who is coming in and we don't know anything about the site," she said. "Plus, we don't know what [effect] the lights, traffic and other things will have on the Schaer House."
The Alexander Schaer House is an example of how progress and historic preservation can collide, but is also an example of how these things can work hand and hand.
"Preservation and progress are not mutually exclusive, they work together because historic preservation is economic development," Patton said.
The Argenta district is a good example of historic preservation and economic development, Patton said.
"Before that, downtown wasn't a place that many people wanted to hang out at," she said. "It has taken years and years of groups working together and putting these buildings back into use. Now our downtown is attractive and thriving and brought First Orion, an $18 million investment."
Patton said cities across the state have lost their downtown fabric because of the loss of their historic buildings.
"The main reason we work to preserve our historic buildings is because that is our history," she said. "They are our tangible reminders of place and time.
"Once something like that is gone, then it's gone forever."