Conway City Councilwoman Jean Timbes can remember only one other issue in her long tenure as a councilwoman that brought her as many letters, phone calls. emails and personal contacts as the redevelopment of the Conway golf course has.
The other high-interest issue was consideration of a smoking ban in Downtown Conway.
But there’s a difference in the comments she’s received in these two situations. Her input on the smoking ban was split, but it’s all going one way in the annexation and zoning of the former golf course property.
“My mind is made up,” she said, adding that it has been since Day One.
A request from developer Forrest Beverly at council’s previous meeting, due to the inability of his engineer to attend that meeting, was for the issue to be tabled until council could hold another meeting and hear from her.
Council will hold that meeting Monday afternoon beginning at 4 p.m., just before its regular 5:30 p.m. meeting when council is expected to take a final vote on the issue.
Councilman William Goldfinch thinks voting so quickly is a mistake because the concerned citizens, many of them victims of Hurricane Florence’s flooding, and some council members don’t have all the information they need.
Goldfinch said council rushed through the requirements for its new R zoning district and needs to go back and reconsider it.
“We sort of, and I’ll take credit for really pushing this issue last fall that led us to creating this R zoning, which really only says you got to have a bigger lot, and we were wrong. We messed up. That doesn’t solve the issue…There are tremendous amounts of unintended consequences if we go with the R zoning…” he said. Goldfinch says Beverly’s current plan for the development has an average lot size of 9,991-square-feet, with very few as small as 7,500-square-feet, the lot size minimum for an R-1 zone, which is what the developer wants.
The current plan calls for 16 percent of the property to be open space with 198 homes. Goldfinch also points out that the lots abutting the nearest existing homes are 10,000-square-feet to 15,000-square-feet.
The plan also calls for an amenity center.
If Beverly is forced to have no lots less than 10,000-square-feet, Goldfinch says, he’ll use a grid to plan 186 homes, a reduction of only 12 homes. The amenity center will likely be gone, and the open space will drop about in half to 8 percent or 9 percent.
“As far as how am I going to vote; how would anyone vote when they understand the reality?” he asked.
Goldfinch said flooding and lot size aren’t the primary issues here.
“It’s not the lot size that’s the issue,” he said. “It’s the guidelines. It’s the end product…As you know we’re importing people from out of town to live here. If we want to build crap, that’s what we’re going to have.”
He wants the city to have more homes aimed at families that will come in, spend money and stimulate the economy, he said, adding that the spending impact of families over retirees is something like more than six times as much.
“I think the responsible thing to do is to get this right. We’re not talking about a festival or something saying, ‘Hey, let’s try it out this year.’ This is a forever thing and I just personally don’t want to rush to judgment on something...Let’s get it right. Let’s get it right,” he said.
He doesn’t think flooding is as much of an issue as traffic and congestion.
Councilman Larry White says he’ll do whatever the people in that area want.
“I agree that the residents need to get more understanding about what’s going on. I had one lady call me crying. She was upset about all the trees being gone…I don’t see why he could not have left some of the trees there, but at the same time they need to have a meeting of the minds…” he said.
White wants a larger lot size and says he’s glad council created the zone calling for larger lots.
“Whatever the citizens in the area want that’s fine with me, cause I don’t live over there. I want them to be confortable,” he said.
But, he said, he’s open to changing his mind if Monday’s briefing offers new information.
Councilman Tom Anderson says nobody has offered him any new information since council took its first vote on the subdivision and unless something new comes up Monday, he’ll stick with his vote for the 10,000-square-foot lots.
“I’m more in favor of the 10 because I think it’s in better keeping with the neighborhood. If we can get a little more satisfaction from the engineer, I just think that’ll be better,” he said.
He wants to see long-term solutions to the flooding problems. One of the first things he continues to mention is changing the U.S. 501 bridging along Lake Busbee so it doesn’t dam up the water and push it back on Conway.
Flood victim and concerned citizen April O’Leary has played an important role in getting the citizens in the area organized to appeal to the city to reduce flooding.
The group has already met twice to organize its efforts and many of them plan to attend Monday’s meeting.
But they won’t be allowed to speak at the workshop meeting. The plan, according to city spokesperson Taylor Newell, is to ask attendees to write their questions and hand them over to Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy. She will present the questions to an independent stormwater expert that the city plans to bring to the meeting.
Although O’Leary is interested in the former golf course’s development, her scope is much larger.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint…I would always encourage you to ask citizens to come and engage and be a part of that conversation and that process because they’re going to learn a lot. They’re going to understand how things work,” she said.
She worries that nobody is really looking at the big picture. She wants people to look at the tributaries, and she says there are many that flow into Crabtree Swamp.
She blames current flooding problems on sea-level rise, climate change, high-peak flow, high-energy events and poorly maintained infrastructure.
“It’s (Crabtree Canal) a degraded stream. It’s not functioning the way it’s supposed to function and they don’t have the resources and capacity to fix it,” she said, pointing out that Phase Two of Crabtree’s planned restoration is lagging.
“So what we really want to do is make sure that we’re equipping the citizens with the knowledge that they need, so what I’ve done is compiled what I believe to be the information that we should really be considering as far as it relates to any development proposals,” she said.
She says there will be a planning conference in Conway in May, offered by NOAA, where experts will look at a number of factors that can help them plan for the future.
As for the golf course development, she said, “I think that the concern is that this particular proposal it just seems like it’s moving forward despite the significant concerns that many of us have. I’m not really sure why, it just seems to have been rubberstamped,” she said.
O’Leary worries that shortly after Hurricane Florence there was a lot of talk about flooding and future prevention, but since then she thinks the conversation has stopped, or at least for inland areas.
She says she has about 200 to 250 residents who agree with her that they don’t want the old golf course turned into a residential development, but council members say that isn’t an option.
She doesn’t think making it a residential development is a good use of the property.
“I don’t think it makes sense to put people and property in a place where it floods,” O’Leary said. “It’s really not a good use of that parcel. Now if the city had the resources, the capacity, they would probably use that parcel as part of their flood mitigation. There’s a lot of opportunity to turn that into an area that would hold a lot of water,” she said.
She says she was pleased to hear Blain-Bellamy talk about obtaining an hydrology study.
“The goal really would be to try to restore some of these coastal streams so they work more like a coastal plain,” she said.
Councilman Shane Hubbard, a Graham Road resident, is literally close to the situation.
He says when talk of the subdivision began he had the same thoughts as most of the others; however, since then he’s set out to learn all he can about the subdivision and he’s learned a lot about development and stormwater runoff.
He thinks the subdivision as Beverly has it drawn will add a lot of diversity to the neighborhood. It’s got 8,000-square-foot lots all the way to 15,000-square-foot lots, he said.
It isn’t like a 7,500-square-foot cookie cutter neighborhood.
If a family wants to move in and have a larger lot they can, and if a retired couple wants to move in and have a smaller lot, they can, he said.
He thinks there’s much for everybody to learn Monday when an engineer and stormwater expert answer council and the public’s questions.
“…we’re going to get educated and hopefully come to a consensus that everybody can live with. The fact is the property is going to be developed. That’s just something we’ve got to live with…” he said.
Although Timbes is siding with the residents on the larger lot sizes, she hopes Monday’s workshop session won’t just be a repeat of the past council meeting.
She thinks it isn’t possible at this point, but she actually wants to revisit the R zone and require 12,000-square-foot lots, something more in keeping in the character of the neighborhood.
She says she has had her mind made up since Day One, and she doesn’t expect to change it now no matter how many people attend Monday’s meeting.
“I don’t need to hear it again,” she said.