Council to consider Sonic project appeal at Sept. 28 meeting

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

By Samantha Jones

The Eureka Springs Planning Commission voted 3-1 to deny an application for a Sonic Drive-In on Tuesday, Sept. 8, but the project isn't dead yet.

The commission's decision will be appealed to the Eureka Springs City Council on Monday, Sept. 28, according to an agenda sent by city clerk Ann Armstrong on Tuesday, Sept. 22.

The planning commission heard from Jacob Stauffer of North Folk Holdings LLC on Sept. 8 about the proposed project, which would be located at 104 Huntsville Road.

The commission unanimously approved an application for the drive-in on Feb. 11, but Stauffer said on Sept. 8 that he was submitting a revised application after speaking with public works director Dwayne Allen about a future roundabout at the intersection of highways 62 and 23 South. Stauffer said he was "trying to be very accommodating" of the future construction even though the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) "is not pushing" and "has no plans" for the roundabout.

"That notwithstanding, we've moved our property back to accommodate for the roundabout so our facility won't be taken down and our entrances don't have to be changed if, at some point in the future, this roundabout is instituted," Stauffer said.

That has pushed the project "over the hill," Stauffer said, and North Fork Holdings LLC is willing to take on the cost of the move.

"Our goal has been to be very accommodating with the city. I've developed many, many projects throughout the year and I've always tried to work with cities," Stauffer said. "It's gotten to the point where it needs to go forward or it needs to go away."

Commissioner Tom Buford asked if the application is completely different from what was submitted earlier and Stauffer said the project was moved south away from the intersection to leave space for the roundabout. Access would be limited to Jordan Drive, Stauffer said, and wouldn't be directly located on Highway 62.

"What we're taking is basically continual access and we're defining that access point to an existing city street," Stauffer said. "From a traffic management perspective, this is a substantial improvement."

Buford asked if public works has signed off on the project and Stauffer said they have not.

"There's resistance to the project is what we're gathering," Stauffer said. "Every time we respond to a request, another request is made. That's the reason we're here tonight. The mayor wanted us to come back before this board because the changes get your approval. It will be up to you if this project moves forward or not."

The commission then opened the floor to citizen comments, and Kristi Kendrick stated that she opposes the development. Kendrick said the project would violate city code and cause "total gridlock" for after-school traffic.

"The project will cost the city much more than it will ever get in taxes and, in exchange, it will bring in only minimum-wage jobs, a blight on the city's streetscape and a horrendous traffic nightmare," Kendrick said.

Chairwoman LauraJo Smole then read letters from police chief Brian Young, transit director Ken "Smitty" Smith and Allen. Young writes that the only exit and entrance existing on Jordan Drive would cause "major traffic congestion, especially when school lets out." He already has an officer at the intersection of highways 62 and 23 South, Young writes, and he doesn't have an officer to work the traffic at Jordan Drive.

"There is too much area in between for one officer to cover," Young writes.

Smith's letter is short, stating that he doesn't "see the new Sonic Drive negatively affecting transit in anyway."

In Allen's letter, he writes that ARDOT rejected the permit request for the driveways and curb placement, making Jordan Drive the only entrance and exit for the project. Allen writes that "multiple issues lead to my decision to not issue a driveway permit for this project."

"The first and foremost concern is traffic safety. The amount of traffic that will be concentrated at this intersection, especially when school is in session, will lead to increased accidents," Allen writes. "It will restrict access for our officers when controlling traffic. The residents that live on Jordan must be considered, as well as any future development in that area."

Allen writes that the city's planned intersection improvements will not be possible under the revised application.

"I do not want to limit growth or needed tax revenue, nor do we wish to land-lock this property, but there's no doubt this intersection must be improved to ensure the safety of our residents and provide safe travel through the busiest intersection in Carroll County," Allen writes.

Stauffer called Allen's letter "somewhat disingenuous."

"We've moved the property back and not directly accessed the highway based upon Mr. Allen's initial comments that he wanted room left for the roundabout," Stauffer said. "Again, the state is saying categorically they're paying zero dollars toward this [roundabout]."

He continued, "I have zero desire to get in the middle of that dispute. I'm trying to satisfy everyone in a fight that is not my choosing and which I take no stance, which is why we volunteered to move back and make this work."

Smole asked city preservation officer Glenna Booth if Allen submitted any documentation to support his opinion and Booth said he did not.

"I would have appreciated the commission having a little more cooperation from city departments, so they have documentation backing up what they're saying," Smole said.

Buford said he is "all for the Sonic" but can't support the project until the developer works things out with public works, while commissioner Ferguson Stewart said public works didn't provide "any reasonable information to substantiate their position."

"It's difficult for me to use a letter, even though I have great trust in the director of public works," Stewart said. " I think we should move forward on this application."

Commissioner Katie Hendrickson agreed.

"When public works is not really giving us anything to go on they're just saying, 'Please don't do this' I don't think that's a position," Hendrickson said.

Smole pointed out that the area is zoned commercial and a restaurant is a permitted use of that property.

"When I look at this plan, what I see is a property that before had no entrances and exits," Smole said. "What I see now is the traffic being turned into Jordan Drive. That's going to prevent vehicles from just dashing out into the middle of traffic right before that intersection happens. I think that is providing some good traffic control."

The commission voted, with everyone voting to approve the application except Buford. Smole stated that the motion passed, but Booth said the city council passed an ordinance last year requiring seven-member commissions to approve all motions with four yes votes.

"It is with regret, then, that I state the motion did not pass due to a recent city ordinance that requires passage by the total number of commissioners, not the quorum present," Smole addressed Stauffer. "There is an automatic appeal process to city council you can pursue."

The council will consider the appeal in a public hearing at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28, at the Auditorium.

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