Council gives Sonic the green light

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Originally refused by the Eureka Springs Planning Commission in January and again in September, city council overturned the rejection at the Sept. 28 meeting approving North Fork Holdings, LLC appeal to build a Sonic Drive-In at 104 Huntsville Rd.

The location is currently a vacant restaurant at the corner intersection of Hwy. 23 and US 62. Primary concerns were traffic safety and roadway access.

Residents of Jordan Drive, the street adjoining the property and proposed access road for the primary entrance and exit to Sonic, voiced concerns of traffic congestion and public safety. “It’s already a dangerous intersection,” Jordan Drive resident David Gallia said.

However, some lodging business owners are in favor of Sonic. Rick and Cheri Rojek of The Heartstone Inn and Cottages said, “We strongly support the approval of this development… any of these problems are solvable when all parties work together.”

Public Works Director Dwayne Allen’s desire for a future installation of a roundabout at that intersection was discussed. The roundabout was not part of the original discussion by the Planning Commission, but much of the night’s discussion veered in that direction.

Planning Chair LauraJo Smole stated, “I was sorely disappointed that the mayor allowed the conversation to go off topic to a roundabout—something that was never brought up in Planning.” Smole said the Sonic application met 100 percent of city code and was approved by three of the four votes in January, which did not reach the majority of the commission per City ordinance.

Planning commissioner Tom Buford’s No vote of was in part due to the lack of documentation provided by Allen. He was present at the meeting Monday evening and provided differing statements about the potential cost of road and curb work, ranging from $500,000 to $1 million that may be required of the city if Sonic’s request was approved.

In a memo from Allen to the mayor on Sept. 8, he wrote, “Dry Forks Holdings agrees to resurface Jordan and place a curb along the south side of the street after construction, and the city would be responsible after that. Multiple issues lead to my decision to not issue a driveway permit for this project.”

Allen’s refusal to provide the driveway permit on Jordan Dr. for ingress and egress added to council’s hurdles and the roundabout only muddied the water, but after about an hour of road discussion alderman Harry Meyer said to Allen, “You keep going to back to the $500,000 or the million dollars if the Sonic goes in—I don’t understand.”

Allen agreed it was speculation but said, “That’s planning for the future.” Meyer replied that there are no real plans for a roundabout and no drawings, “It seems that we’ve had years to discuss this while that property sat there vacant—and now that someone wants to purchase it and actually add a viable business to the city—which is a good plan—now we’re talking about this [roundabout]! It’s speculation!”

Alderman Terry McClung agreed and said to Allen, “It sounds to me like the thing you want to do is pass the financial burden off onto… the people wanting to put in the Sonic, and that’s pretty much an unfair burden on them.”

McClung made the motion, and Meyer seconded, to approve the application contingent upon mutual agreement to the improvement to the street and curb at Jordan Dr. The vote was five Yeas with alderman Mickey Schneider voting No.

Mayor Butch Berry said he would rely on Allen to work out that agreement, and McClung was skeptical of that saying, “We’ll see how that goes.”

Employee handbook to deal with nepotism

In other business, council agreed to waive the bidding for the purchase of a bucket truck priced at $107,019; approved the annual levy on property in Ord. 2301; and approved the addition of a no-nepotism clause to the employee manual.

The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 12 at 6 p.m. in the AUD. 

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