Mayor Patrick Hays Monday night was given permission from the North Little Rock City Council to set up a public land development task force.
After much debate, the original idea was to appoint a seven-member task force. After discussing the idea with aldermen, the task force will comprise of 13.
The task force will comprise of two council representatives, two mayoral appointees, a parks department appointee, and two people from each of the city’s four wards.
The council and mayor are expected to name the task force members at its next regularly scheduled meeting of Sept. 24.
"It is appropriate for city council to periodically review and study the inventory of property owned by the city in order to determine whether such property is being utilized properly or should be offered for private development," according to the ordinance. "The city council desires to establish a task force to review, study and report upon the inventory of property owned by the city that is dedicated for park purposes, used for park purposes, suitable for park purposes, or suitable for economic development."
Alderwoman Debi Ross asked the mayor to prohibit anyone currently serving on a city board or commission from serving on the task force.
Ross said she wanted people who have not had much of a chance in the past to serve the city in an appointment capacity to be given the opportunity.
Hays said he did not have a problem with Ross’ proposal. The council did instruct City Attorney Jason Carter to include language in the ordinance that allowed aldermen and the future park department appointee to be an exception to the exclusionary clause.
As aldermen told Hays their desire to see ward representation to rise from one appointee per ward to two, the mayor asked council members to give him two appointments or zero.
"I want this task force to have an odd number," Hays said. "Either 11 or 13."
Following Hays’ comments, Ross supported the prospect of the mayor getting no appointees. However, Alderman Murry Witcher voiced the desire of giving Hays two appointees. Following a discussion, the majority of council members supported giving Hays two appointees, bringing the number of task force members to 13.
Hays told aldermen that one of his appointees will be from the business community.
"I will be asking the (North Little Rock) Chamber of Commerce to provide me a name from the business community," Hays said.
The council vote came weeks following a public outcry among some city residents who opposed a proposal to turn Big Rock Quarry into a residential development.
The proposal would have allowed Real Estate Commercial 1 Inc. to buy 40 acres of land at $1.2 million for a condo development called "The Bluffs."
Alderman discussed the possibility of placing a moratorium on developing Big Rock Quarry while the task force is meeting and coming up with recommendations.
Hays pointed out that it would be nearly impossible for a proposal to come to the floor of council to potentially develop Big Rock Quarry.
"It is not going to happen," Hays said. "This action does not preclude this council from acting. It would be fool hearty and take six votes to bring this up to the council."
The task force’s forming did not come without opposition.
Mark Clinton, a candidate for North Little Rock mayor, publicly voiced opposition to portions of the task force proposal.
Clinton said the city should not be using its powers to use public lands to take the lead in fostering economic development efforts. Clinton, who described himself as a conservative, said developing land for economic development purposes should be a job left to the private sector.
No city official responded to Clinton’s comments.