The Bryant City Council voted during a special meeting at 4 p.m. Friday to extend a hold on the issuance of permits to build multi-family housing in the city limits.
The council had been slated to vote on whether to lift the moratorium, which was put in place in 2011. Alderman Steve Curtis instead moved to vote to extend it.
Although the action might make the city vulnerable to a lawsuit with a current land owner, the council voted unanimously to extend the hold after nearly 20 residents spoke out against the construction of apartments in the area.
"Your citizens have spoken eloquently and with passion and with great concern," said Bryant resident Joe Wishard.
"The citizens of Bryant want no more apartments in the city limits," said Alderman Rob Roedel.
The sentiment seemed to be shared by almost everyone in the room.
"I have the same concerns many of you have surrounding the impact more apartments will have on our great city," said Mayor Jill Dabbs. In fact, Dabbs was instrumental in issuing the hold two years ago. The intention at the time was to give the city's Planning and Zoning Commission time to "establish very high standards for any future developments."
There has not been interest in moving forward with legislation to put these standards in place, said Chris Madison, staff attorney. A proposed ordinance governing the standards for multi-family residences didn't make it through the Planning Commission in October to be brought before the council because of a negative public reaction.
And now, "this is a situation I and the council must face," Dabbs said.
"We cannot just say 'no' to apartments without exposing the city to possible legal action," Madison said. "It's my job to keep the city out of trouble. You're driving. You say when to speed up and what direction we take," he told the council. "It's my job to show you where the lines are and where there's a stop sign and try to keep us out of the ditch.
"I don't particularly like the idea of more apartments," Madison said. The city, however, passed a zoning ordinance in 2007 that allowed the building of apartments in the area known as Midtown on which the property in question stands.
Before the moratorium was put in place, investments had already been made by the developer to fund the project.
"They are not the only ones who made investments. We all have," said Bryant resident John Kibrow.
Several others, including William Burgess, a candidate for City Council in the 2012 election, made arguments that real estate is a gamble. "You win some; you lose some. There are other ways for them to get their money back," Burgess said.
"That's the way the real estate game is," said local attorney Josh Newton.
But Madison said there is a serious liability issue for the city if it continues to block construction on the project. The situation could end in a lawsuit and the loss of millions of dollars. Also, the validity of the moratorium as a whole might be taken into question, and if that is not in effect, it might leave the city without any protection from all types of apartment complexes moving in.
Bryant resident June Garden just moved to the area and said she appreciates the "sense of security, safety and community" she has found. She said she has lived in cities all around the world and has seen "what happens when apartments come in."
Several residents expressed concern that an apartment complex in the area would be detrimental to property values.
"Property values would be seriously affected," said local Realtor Butch Higginbotham.
Bryant resident Blake Morgan spoke on behalf of the Homeowners Association for the West Point subdivision. "The people in this community work hard for what they have and don't deserve for this to happen because of someone else's idea to line their own pocketbooks, when they do not even live in Bryant."
Joseph Woodson, attorney for the property owner, was in attendance and addressed the crowd. "We are not indifferent to the community concerns," he said. "I have a family, too, and I want quality of life," he said.
Woodson believes the reason the city has a different attitude since the 2007 ordinance was passed is because of changes in the economy. "We all want to live in a nice place. No one could have predicted what happened with the economy. We are now trying to make it work and find a way out."
If it's not worked out, the city may be sued by the developers and bankers, Woodson said.
"They might be right, but we have to stand up for what we want," Newton said.
It's not time to "dot i's and cross t's," said Alderman Steve Gladden. It's time to do "what is best for the people."
Many residents showed concern that crime would increase because of apartment construction.
Bryant resident Jan Payne expressed concern in bringing in the "type of people that move into apartments."
In response, Woodson said they were "high-end apartments" that will take $100,000 to build.
"Don't be deceived," Newton said. "Apartments never stay nice."
Renters have less incentive to keep up the property and it's usually short-term lodging, he added.
"It doesn't matter how nice they are," said Bryant resident Josh Elrod. The city can't accommodate more people, he said.
Although the meeting was not held at its regular time, the courtroom at City Hall in Bryant was almost full. Most of the audience members were there to show opposition to the apartment construction.
Debra and Randy Helms were among the concerned residents who attended the meeting. Their 2-year-old grandson, Griffin, is hearing-impaired and lives nearby the proposed complex. The couple moved to a home on Commonweatlh Drive to be closer to him.
They are concerned for his safety if the traffic on the road increases by an estimated 500 cars a day to accommodate the 240-unit apartment complex if it is built in the area.
The traffic is already heavy and they walk with him back and forth to his house, Debra Helms said.
"I don't mind apartments, but that is not the place," she said.
If they move forward with construction. The Helms, who have lived in Bryant for 26 years, would want to leave, but said they can't afford to sell. "We would have never moved there if we knew this would happen," Helms said.
Bryant resident Tonya Baldwin agreed. "I urged my husband to move to this community, but we would have stayed in west Little Rock and not moved to Bryant.
"There has to be a better solution," Helms said.
Some audience members noted that they thought this issue was discussed in a special meeting during business hours rather than during the council's regular monthly meeting in order to keep information from the public.
"I think it's a slap in the face to try to sneak this in," Morgan said. In response, the room erupted in applause.
The issue, however, was discussed during the December City Council meeting, but was tabled, Dabbs said.
There was discussion of tabling the issue again, but the issue is time-sensitive, Madison said. "The clock is ticking and the longer we extend this moratorium, the greater liability we will have."
The strong reaction from the public reinforced Madison's position that action should be taken during the meeting. "I don't think there is anything I could say during the next few weeks that could change your mind," he said.
Several other residents expressed the desire to be informed in advance when the council discusses issues that directly affect them.
Dabbs informed the audience of the "Notify Me" feature available to residents, which sends information updates via text message or email, including the agendas for council meetings.
After the motion was approved to keep the moratorium in place, the council received a standing ovation from the audience.