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Austin residents rail at new construction

Opposition to construction of 10 duplexes in Austin dominated the April 28 Austin City Council meeting. Challenges to the plans led to tabling of them until the city attorney can be consulted. Council members approved a establishment of a fee for electrical inspections.

Mayor Bernie Chamberlain and aldermen Laurel Carnes, Anthony Fible, Randy Ryan, Matt Sheets, Phillip Whiting and Tammy Williams attended the meeting.

Ryan, a member of the planning commission, said the commission had approved a rezone request for approximately eight acres at south end of East First Street. The rezone would be R-2 to R-3, for multi-family housing, plans are for 10 duplexes, he said.

Residents’ opposition was on safety issues, saying the road is too narrow for the increased traffic and would endanger residents who must walk along the road to get to the city park, which is near the end of the road.

Neither is the road wide enough for two cars to pass; much less the heavy equipment that would be traveling to and from the construction areas were some of the comments.

Also, that the road is the access and exit to the properties raised concerns.

Chamberlain remarked that the road is between the railroad right-of-way and residents property.

Sheets said his concern was building in the floodplain, of which about 30 percent of the area is in. While business affairs are of no concern for the council, the safety and well-being of citizens is a council concern, he said.

“We are going to have renters in those places and, let’s face it, most renters don’t purchase insurance,” he said.

Wendell Gibson, speaking for the construction, said there would be no construction until the site is out of the floodplain, and plans call for more than $40,000 in dirt work to raise the sites.

Fible raised safety concerns about residents not being able to leave the area because of the narrow road. “They can’t just jump in their vehicle and get out because the fire department is right here,” he said.

Concern about the single entry and exit as well as floodplain concerns led to the move to delay the consideration to the May 19 council meeting.

County Judge Doug Erwin, saying he came to the meeting “just to visit,” told of the contributions of county road department workers in the response to the Sunday night tornado.

“The people in Mayflower and Vilonia needed any assistance they could get,” Erwin said of the hours following the tornado.

The Lonoke County workers helped the Faulkner County road crews clear debris from the roads. “They were out there until 4 a.m. clearing the roads to get emergency vehicles in there,” Erwin said.

There is a mutual aid agreement between the counties, “But it’s just what neighbors do for neighbors,” Erwin said.

Lee Linville, district 6 justice of the peace, also told of the response to collection of supplies to be taken to the disaster area. “We had an incredible outpouring of people bringing stuff.”

The items collected since morning filled a 15-foot flatbed as well as his personal truck, Linville said. The supplies were dropped off at one of the response centers at Vilonia.

Sheets, a teacher in Cabot schools, said student organizations are making collections as well. Linville offered to include the student collections with his loads to the areas.

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