Golf Course Redevelopment Causes Apartment Scramble

Tom Jones bought his Conway home site overlooking Cadron Valley Country Club based on his Realtor's assurances the golf course would remain as is.

But less than two years after moving into his upscale residence, Jones was stunned to learn of plans to convert the neighboring 103-acre semiprivate golf club into the city's largest apartment project.

The Links at Cadron Valley, touted as a $35 million-$40 million development, became public last month on news that a trio of investors was buying the 18-hole course.

The redevelopment players are Hal Crafton, Conway's largest real estate developer; Rush Harding III, his business partner and president of the Little Rock investment firm of Crews & Associates; and Jim Lindsey, developer and multifamily maven based in Fayetteville.

Crafton, Harding and Lindsey joined together to develop Conway's Centennial Valley, a 660-acre project with 450 single-family home sites, golf course and country club.

Their Cadron Valley proposal initially was envisioned with 624 apartment units and a reconfigured nine-hole golf course. Those redevelopment plans championed by Crafton were altered after opposition began forming in surrounding residential subdivisions.

"I don't think he was prepared for the organized opposition he's encountering," said Jones, president of the Nob Hill Property Owners Association.

The Nob Hill POA is the first neighborhood group to formally oppose the project and has retained the Little Rock law firm of Catlett & Stodola to help it fight. Property owners in Pine Creek and St. John's subdivisions also have voted to oppose The Links at Cadron Valley. Other POAs are considering similar actions.

In an effort to address residential concerns about the impact of the project, a revised plan calls for replacing seven apartment buildings along the northeastern portion of Cadron Valley with 17 single-family lots.

The move would reduce the total number of units to 554, 180 of which would be one-bedroom apartments. About 67 acres of green space would remain, largely composed of a redesigned nine-hole golf course.

"We're still trying to work with the neighborhoods and fine-tune our plan," Crafton said.

A request to rezone the property from low-density residential use to multifamily was scheduled to go before the Conway Planning Commission on Jan. 18. Crafton wants to delay that vote until next month but proceed with buying the property on Feb. 1.

"He has asked that it be held in committee so that he could have more time to work with neighbors in addressing some of their concerns," said Bill Polk, Conway's planning director. Tuesday's meeting still is expected to draw a throng even if the rezoning proposal remains tabled until February.

"It was considered a shoo-in until so many residents began talking about showing up at the meeting," said Chester Robinson, treasurer of the Royal Oaks-Krooked Kreek-Martha's Village Property Owners Association. "We're hoping for standing room only at that meeting."

Crafton takes the neighbors' concerns in stride.

"Anytime you have new apartments near residential neighborhoods, you have fears," Crafton said. "We're trying to alleviate those fears."

Roster of Concerns

Among the roster of concerns are increased traffic generating more noise and lessening roadway safety, a possible increase in crime, and harm to property values. Perhaps the biggest fear is that transforming more than 30 acres of golf course into apartments and pavement will impact the area's drainage and increase the likelihood of flooding.

Conway residents vividly remember the floods of 2003 that resulted in Faulkner County's designation as a federal disaster area.

Areas of the Krooked Kreek and Royal Oaks subdivisions were awash in runoff from the neighboring golf course and points north, a situation worsened by downstream bottlenecks that hindered drainage during the deluges.

Ronnie Hall, Conway's city engineer, said drainage would be an important item during the review process regardless of whether apartments or houses are on the drawing board.

"It will be addressed if that property develops," Hall said. "We have seen no detailed drainage plans at this time. Whatever they do has got to take away that issue."

Crafton said plans call for the construction of a pair of 2-acre detention ponds to help control runoff during heavy rains.

"All of that will be engineered," he said. "That's one of the first things we wanted to address. We're going to improve the drainage."

The debate over the Cadron Valley proposal is a symptom of the growing pains of one of the fastest-growing cities in Arkansas. Between 2001 and 2003, Conway voters three times rejected a sales tax increase to pay for improving the city's infrastructure.

The last unsuccessful effort specifically targeted paying for street and drainage improvements through a 3/4-cent increase. The five-year tax hike, projected to raise $28 million, was defeated in November 2003 despite the spring flooding that year.

Some opponents would like to see the city buy Cadron Valley and convert it into a public golf course, a role it largely fills now, and add park amenities.

"A suggestion I would have is that the city issue municipal bonds and buy this property," Robinson said.

"To my knowledge, no elected official has indicated there is an impetus to move in that direction because of a lack of funds," Polk said.

How to repay improvement bonds is a ticklish situation in light of recent electoral receptions to increase taxes.

"We have a need in parks," Crafton said. "Everyone wants them, but no one wants to pay for them.

The city has instituted impact fees to help generate money to pay for community improvements. Crafton estimates the revised plans to redevelop Cadron Valley would generate about $800,000 in impact fees.

Effective Sept. 1, 2003, Conway impact fees related to residential development are earmarked for streets (67 percent) and parks (33 percent). Commercial impact fees are earmarked solely for street improvements.

Even if the apartment proposal is abandoned, Crafton intends to redevelop the property, likely with a mix of duplexes and single-family houses allowed under current zoning.

"We're trying to work with all the neighbors," Crafton said. "Once you get past the possibility that the city will buy the property as a park, there's really not a lot of options. (Some opponents) don't want to see any change."