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City acts to take land in meeting

Cabot City Council members in a special meeting held Monday, voted to be begin eminent domain proceedings for a utility easement needed for the West Main Street, Streetscape project. Eminent domain is the authority of the government to force the sale of private property when needed for the common good.

The special meeting was set contingent on the decision of the public works committee. The committee voted for the action on the recommendation of city attorney Jimmy Taylor, who said negotiations with Stratford Holdings LLC had failed for the sale of the parcel fronting West Main Street near Eighth Street. The section is needed for relocation of utilities for the StreetScape project.

The StreetScape project would add sidewalks along West Main Street from Fifth to Tenth streets. The easement is needed before the project can continue, Taylor said.

“We have tried everything under the sun … I think we have even tried [begging],” Taylor remarked during discussion. The latest rejection came after a sale agreement had gone as far as being delivered for the owner’s signature, he said.

“[The owner] wouldn’t sign the title paperwork. He backed out. So we are asking for a resolution to instruct me to proceed with eminent domain proceedings in circuit court,” Taylor said. The project cannot move to the construction phase until the utility easements are assured.

If the council approves the action, the notice of the action could be sent to the owner in New York “in the morning,” Taylor said.

Once the city receives notice that the owner has been served, the action can be taken before the judge in circuit court, Taylor said. The city will deposit the amount of money directed by the judge to cover the estimated purchase price. After that is met, the judge would issue the order for the city to take possession of the property, Taylor explained.

Unless “something is worked out” with the owner, the full purchase price would be determined in a jury trial, he said.

Committee chairman Ed Long remarked that condemnation is not what he wants, but the city has come to the point that something must be done to continue the sidewalk project. “I hate condemnations. I hate that we have to do it. But have got to move on that project,” he said.

The committee members then voted to call on the full council to begin eminent domain action on the parcel. After the committee meeting, the council met in a special session and voted to proceed with the action.

The Cabot StreetScape project began in 2010 and is largely funded through an Arkansas Highway Department grant. The project is to promote pedestrian mobility on West Main Street between commercial areas.

Total project cost will be about $300,000, with $200,000 from the AHTD grant, with about $66,000 in federal local-use funds through Metroplan. The remainder of the cost, about $40,000, would be met by the city.

The original funding allowed for sidewalks and improvements to Eighth Street, but additional city funds extended the sidewalks to Ninth Street.

According to the plan specifications, the typical design of the streetscape will include a 5-foot sidewalk with a 5.5-foot landscaped buffer at the back of the curb on both sides of the roadway. The landscaped buffer will feature plantings, brick pavers, banner-style poles and benches.

The plan purposely sets the sidewalks to allow for future widening of West Main Street to four or five lanes by moving the curb, leaving the sidewalks in place.

Other actions taken by the committees included approval to forward the State Highway 321 Corridor Plan to the full council for consideration; approval to request the city council to begin annexation of the land for the new fire station at West Mountain Springs Road and Arkansas Highway 5; and tabling of discussion on street parking restrictions to the June committee meeting.

The Police and Fire committee also discussed further limitations in the proposed solicitation ordinance.

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