Following a wave of opposition by neighborhood residents, the Conway Planning Commission denied a rezoning request by Mike Grimes, the second denial in more than a year for the property located on Hubbard Road near two schools.
Grimes and developer Chris Thornton had wanted to rezone a 4-acre area from residential (R-1) to planned unit development (PUD) in order to place 67 townhouse units within a gated community across the street from Carl Stuart Middle School and Marguerite Vann Elementary School. The commission voted 9-0 to deny the request.
Opposition to the request came from a petition signed by residents in nearby neighborhoods and parents of students of the two schools as well as more than 10 residents speaking out against the request and another 60 in attendance at the meeting.
Commission member Jeff Allender expressed his problem with the development before voting to deny the request.
"I certainly empathize with the property owner," Allender said. "But there just seem to be too many problems placing this many units into this type of space. The main problem here is that the schools are placed there and may be in the wrong place, but they do not have to have permission from us where to build. It’s like two hands not talking to each other."
This is the second time a rezoning request has been denied by the commission for the property. Previously, the developer had requested a zoning of multi-family housing (MF-2) and had been told by the Conway City Council to be more specific about their plans and ask for a PUD, which could allow for certain restrictions by the commission or the council. Commissioner Lee Washington said he did not see any difference between the previous request and the current one except for a picture of what the property would look like.
Thornton said he had received favorable input from the council before and had scaled back the original concept from 71 to 67 units.
Grimes said despite three public meetings within the neighborhood, he has seen an organized campaign against him.
"Something will be developed there," Grimes said. "And I am trying to make that area the best it can be. Those could end up as starter homes that wind up as rental houses ... or government subsidized houses."
Without the townhouses, there remains a possibility of 16 smaller houses being built in the area.
A stream of residents stood up to speak out against this development, citing safety concerns, traffic and the possibility that the units could house more students from the University of Central Arkansas. More than one resident spoke up that having more college students could be a problem, especially with many children walking from their houses to their schools.
"I’d hate to be a college student in Conway after what I heard tonight," said Commission member Chris Steplock. "I thought there was some unnecessary stereotyping going on from some of the comments."
In other business, two earlier proposals were not heard by the commission. A request for a conditional use permit for plant storage was withdrawn and the request for a conditional use permit for a pharmacy drive-thru was held in committee after the party making the request was not able to attend.
Two preliminary subdivisions were approved, the Overland Heights PUD at Collins Drive and the Weatherstone Phase II near Marble Drive and Newcastle Drive.