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Posted on
Saturday, November 22, 2003
Tree, Trail Task Force Tours Wetland Prairie:
Considering Purchase For Preservation

Northwest Arkansas Times

Members of the Tree and Trails Task Force toured three pieces of property the group is considering purchasing with the remainder of its funds. The stops on Friday's tour included the Town Branch neighborhood, a lot off Sixth Street and a parcel adjacent to Gulley Park.

The six-member task force formed in April 2001 seeking to purchase undeveloped parcels of preserved land for the city as part of a lawsuit settlement agreement. The lawsuit was filed in May 2000 in Washington County Circuit Court, shortly after the City Council's approval of Steele Crossing Shopping Center, which failed to preserve the 15 percent minimum tree canopy required by the city's tree preservation ordinance. The settlement agreement approved by the council required the city to set aside $450,000 in taxpayer money for the acquisition of trail rights-of-way and conservation easements.

Earlier this year, the group made its first purchase when it spent $294,500 to acquire three parcels of land between U.S. 71 and Razorback Road totaling 21.35 acres. The group has $97,000 remaining in its account. Among the sites the task force is considering is the 2.46-acre lot in the Town Branch neighborhood. The property, which includes about 2 acres of wetland, is west of Duncan Avenue and neighbors Pinnacle Foods and residential areas.

Melissa Terry, who represents the Sierra Club on the task force, said the neighborhood lacks preserved greenspace. The closest parks - including Greathouse Park, Walker Park and Wilson Park - require residents to cross busy streets. "Everyone in this neighborhood has to cross a state highway (to go to greenspace)," Terry said. "It would be a big investment."

The task force also stopped to view a 4-acre plot of land at the southeast corner of Sixth Street and Paris Avenue. The final stop of the tour was the pasture next to Gulley Park, on Township Road.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Brenda Thiel said she would not support using task force money to purchase the pasture because it would likely be spent to develop the park. "I would not support adding to this park," she said. "It would be used as a park, and that isn't what these funds are for."

At the task force's Sept. 12 meeting, Mayor Dan Coody asked members to consider dedicating the remainder of its funds toward the purchase of land on Mount Sequoyah. The city council approved a contract at its April 1 meeting to pay $1.3 million during the next five years for the preservation of 67 wooded acres on Mount Sequoyah's east side. Following the council meeting, the task force agreed to apply half of its money - about $93,000 - to the purchase of Mount Sequoyah, while the city's administration worked to secure land along Clabber Creek that the group had hoped to purchase.

Rather than spend task force money to preserve the area, Coody met with Sam Mathias of Mathias Properties to encourage the developer to donate a portion of the Clabber Creek area for tax credit and offer the remainder as parkland dedication. The group will meet with owners of the land proposed for preservation before gathering again in December to discuss their next course of action.


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