SPRINGDALE -- The City Council on Tuesday night voted to rezone property that might become the home of a distribution and fulfillment center warehouse on Dixieland Road. The vote was 7-1, with council member Brian Powell voting against the measure.
The Planning Commission earlier this month rejected a rezoning request for 81 acres of the 91-acre property from commercial to light industrial. Will Kellstrom, a lawyer representing Macrich LLC, the property's unidentified owner, appealed the decision to the council.
The council overturned the commission's decision, but granted a warehouse zoning classification rather than industrial.
Kellstrom accepted it on behalf of his client.
Typically, after the council overturns the Planning Commission, a new zoning classification would come before council at the next regular meeting, said Ernest Cate, city attorney.
The property owner wanted a ruling immediately, so he could move forward with business plans, said Bill McClard, a spokesman for the owner. He noted "a Fortune 500" company was considering the property for its warehouse center.
The property is bordered by Apple Blossom to the north, Graham Road on the west and south. The city's extension of Dixieland Road south to Wagon Wheel Road will border the property to the east.
On Saturday, a large parking lot for J.B. Hunt Transport employees sat empty across the street, hidden by a few rural residences.
Fifteen residents of Walden Street came t0 the council meeting to oppose the rezoning, with the facility proposed to lie about 400 feet from their property. Dixieland Road will run between the houses and the warehouse development, with a strip of commercial property fronting Dixieland on the warehouse side.
David Gilbert, a civil engineer and 45-year resident of Walden, spoke for the community.
"When a city considers rezoning property, they are to consider the 'highest and best use' of the property, not any projects proposed for the site," he said.
He raised concerns as to what could happen to the rezoned industrial land if the deal falls through. The uses of this industrial zoning include "extruded plastics manufacturing," which melts and molds plastic into shapes.
"They say we've got to hurry, that they've got a big fish," Gilbert said. "But that big fish is only on the line. He's not hooked yet."
Gilbert also pointed out neither Apple Blossom nor Graham can handle heavy construction vehicles, let alone warehouse traffic.
"Graham's thin. It's only 16 feet wide and it's hilly and curvy," he said. "The 5 o'clock traffic from J.B. Hunt backs up Apple Blossom for about a half mile in both directions."
The city's extension of Dixieland Road is 90 percent designed, said Mayor Doug Sprouse. The three-lane extension south will meet with Lowell's extension of the road at Monroe Avenue and run to Wagon Wheel Road.
Sprouse said the warehouse facility will front on the improved Dixieland, with construction of the road to be completed in early 2022. The location will provide quick access to Interstate 49 and U.S. 412, when the 612 bypass is completed.
"Dixieland is high on the council's list," Sprouse said. "It's another north-south route between Rogers and Springdale. My crystal ball is no better than anyone else's about what's going to happen, but we have every intention to build Dixieland. This zone development might push it ahead of other projects.
"Several years ago, 612 was just a line on a map. But plans are firmer. We don't know when -- but that might get better depending on the vote in November. But we can build Dixieland as quickly as anyone can develop that property."
Arkansas voters will decide Nov. 3 whether to extend a 1/2 cent sales tax for highway improvements. If approved by voters, the tax set to expire in 2023 will become permanent.
The entire property was rezoned from agricultural from commercial several years ago by the same property owner. Gilbert said he opposed that rezoning, too.
Gilbert said the city's Land Use Plan as it appears on the city website shows the land zoned for low-density residential development. And he said that stands as a promise from the city to protect their homes.
The plan was adopted by the City Council in 2012.
"It's eight years later, and there's no development there," Kellstrom said. "It's a plan. It's not a zoning ordinance. Current goals and plans to shape the future. It's not a rigid plan, and it's not a promise."
Kevin Parsley, chairman of the Planning Commission, said he thought industrial use for the property was a good fit for the area. He said concerns of residents could be addressed as large-scale plans for construction come before the commission and City Council for approval.
But he agreed, if the city rezoned based on the potential of one buyer, if that user backed out, another business might not fit the current development.
Parsley said he voted against the rezoning last week because the timing was wrong. The area is just not quite ready for this type of development, he said.
"The infrastructure not in place," he said. "But that land has a lot of potential."
Powell stated similar concerns about the project.
Parsley agreed the land use plan needs to be updated. The entire northwest corner of the city has seen heavy growth, he said. The Bethel Height area, which the city annexed in August, also needs to be revisited, he said.
Laurinda Joenks can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NWALaurinda.