After a lengthy discussion Monday night, the city of Conway is one step closer to exempting a developer from paying fines for cutting down protected trees — which would be the first time the city would waive its tree protection ordinance for a developer.
The subject property is a planned development near the Wild Wing neighborhood off U.S. 501. The developer has said there are plans to construct senior living apartments on one of the parcels. A 25-foot buffer will be required.
Monday’s council meeting brought multiple people who spoke in opposition of the development, many of whom live in Wild Wing and some whose properties back up to the planned development.
Residents expressed concerns over flooding becoming worse if more trees are cut down, infrastructure and more traffic, and general opposition to more development. However, city council ultimately passed first reading of the request that would allow the developer to be exempt from following the tree preservation ordinance. Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy and councilman Larry White voted against the request.
The property fell under the planned development zoning code prior to the city combining zoning with subdivision regulations to create a unified development ordinance in 2011. The applicant is Jimmy Jordan with Canolina Properties, which owns three parcels, and JP Jordan and Associates, which owns two parcels —all making up about 50 acres.
Following the first reading and public hearing Monday, councilman William Goldfinch made a motion to hold another meeting before the end of the year to vote on the second reading, which would be required to ultimately pass the request. The city did not have a second meeting planned for the month.
But during an October meeting, Goldfinch made a motion to defer the item.
Goldfinch on Tuesday said he requested the meeting for multiple reasons. The first reason was to pass the request before two new council members join in January, adding that the current council members have more background and have been following the request for years.
"It would be like putting a juror on the jury during closing arguments," Goldfinch said.
Another reason is that a senior living facility is needed in Conway, he said.
“The reason we need to get this done is that this council has worked tirelessly in trying to find a suitable compromise to what the needs of this assisted living facility needs on that piece of property,” Goldfinch said Tuesday. “We tried to work out a compromise on the existing tree ordinance that would be more accommodative to this particular concept of the assisted living facility, which we desperately need these types of assisted living facilities in our area.”
The developer will also be required to dig retention ponds, which would require trees to be cleared.
"We’re going to fine him for what we are requiring him to do? That’s not fair," Goldfinch said. "That’s why we must grant the exception."
City staff, which recommended denial of the request, have said the applicant never went to the city’s tree board to request the fees for cutting down the trees be reduced. Allison Hardin, the city’s planning director, previously said that not going before the tree board is like skipping a step in the process.
Before the vote Monday night, Blain-Bellamy grilled Hardin about the request for exemption, while pointing out that Conway is a tree city that other places in the state have used as a model.
The purpose of the city’s tree ordinance is to provide protection, preservation, proper maintenance and use of trees and woodlands, the ordinance states.
A number of different types of trees — larger than a certain diameter at breast height depending on the type — are protected in the city, including crape myrtle, live oaks, sycamore, red maples, bald cypress and flowering dogwoods.
These trees may not be removed from any city property without a protected tree removal permit. If removed without a proper permit, the ordinance states a person either has to replant the same number of inches or pay the equivalent of buying those trees from a nursery, which goes into a tree fund for planting more trees and tree protection activities.