A public hearing on a proposal to rezone a piece of property in the Watson Chapel community for commercial uses will be held Tuesday before the Pine Bluff City Council meeting.

A public hearing on a proposal to rezone a piece of property in the Watson Chapel community for commercial uses will be held Tuesday before the Pine Bluff City Council meeting.

Backers of the proposal to rezone 3800 Oakwood Road from R-1 Residential to B-3 Commercial have said they would like to build a Dollar General store at the site. Watson Chapel school administrators, nearby residents and city planning staff have said they fear the change would add traffic to what is already an overly congested area.

The request was originally considered at the Jan. 31 Pine Bluff Planning Commission meeting, where commissioners weighed the traffic concerns against a desire to encourage new businesses, create jobs and increase tax revenue. Commissioners split 3-3 on the issue. Five votes are needed to approve a proposal, so the rezoning request failed for a lack of a fifth vote.

The project’s backers have appealed the decision to the City Council, which will have the option to vote on the issue Tuesday after hearing comments from the public. Those who wish to speak for or against the proposal do not have to sign up in advance to do so, according to the mayor’s office.

Ward 3 Alderman Glen Brown, who represents the Watson Chapel area, said he is still on the fence about how he will vote. He said his tendency is to be pro-business, but he is also considering the concerns about traffic that are being expressed by the school district leaders and others. He said he plans to take a look at the proposal site and listen to what residents and his fellow aldermen have to say on the issue.

“The people that live farther down on Sulphur Springs are saying that they want it,” Brown said, adding that he has been told by residents in that area that they would love to have a closer location to buy basic household items. “The main people who don’t want it are the ones who live a block or a block and a half from that area and the people at the school.”

Alderman Bill Brumett also represents Ward 3. He said that improving the traffic flow in that area has been a concern of his ever since he was first elected to the council. Brumett said he will not vote in favor of rezoning the property.

“Over the years we have made changes that have made the situation better, but it is still a nightmare for those parents and students that travel, pick up and drop off there,” Brumett said in an emailed statement, adding that rezoning the property commercial was not a good idea. “We all want progress, but that plan would be very detrimental to the efforts that have been made.

“In the future Sulphur Springs Road is planned to become four lanes. At that point commercial businesses in that specific area will make more sense, but not under the present conditions. The increased risk for the children, of someone getting hurt and present traffic congestion does not justify the change.”

Watson Chapel School District Superintendent Danny Hazelwood spoke out against the proposal at the last School Board meeting, where he encouraged members of the public who have an interest in the school district to attend the City Council meeting and voice their opinion.

“It’s going to — we feel like — just cause a terrible problem for our already high rate of traffic in that area,” Hazelwood said. “There’s Dollar General within a half mile of here already.”

The proposed site is at an intersection between where Watson Chapel Junior High School and L.L. Owen Elementary School are located. Watson Chapel High School is also within eyesight.

“There are parents that have students at both schools, and they have a terrible time negotiating between one school and the other,” Hazelwood said, referring to the junior high and elementary school. “It’s just a narrow, two-lane street. There are really two periods during the day, 7:30 to 8:30 and then from about 3 to 4 in the afternoon when it’s bad. We have to have volunteers in the street helping to direct traffic because it’s such a jumbled mess.”

Hazelwood said the number of students who walk to school is much less than it used to be, but there still are a few, and their safety is a concern.

Sam Ware of Ware Properties LLC spoke on behalf of the proposal at the Jan. 31 Planning Commission meeting as the developer for the proposed project. Ware said Dollar General asked him to find a location in the Watson Chapel area, and that this is the only site he found in his five months of research that would be suitable for the planned 9,100-square-foot store, which is the larger version of the types of stores that Dollar General builds.

Ware said he also plans to develop Dollar General stores in White Hall and in north Pine Bluff. Ware said there are six Dollar Generals in Pine Bluff and White Hall currently.

Andy Lunsford with Lunsford Realty also spoke in favor of the request, and Lunsford Realty actually filed the application for the rezoning. He said that because of the traffic in the area, the nearby schools and nearby commercial buildings, the single-family home currently at the site will be difficult to sell as a residential property and he feels it would most likely be successful as a commercial building. Otherwise, the house may remain empty, he said.

The city’s planning adviser Jerre George recommended against the request, arguing the traffic volume in the area is already too much for the existing roadway. She recommended against adding additional commercial businesses to the area until after the road is widened or the traffic problems are otherwise eased.

The discussion at the Planning Commission meeting drew comments from a neighbor to the proposed site, who argued against the proposal.

Included in the agenda packet for Tuesday’s council meeting is a letter from Janice and Grady Kimbrell, urging the council to vote against the rezoning proposal.

“Please don’t let our children be at greater risk because someone wants another Dollar Store in the area,” the Kimbrells stated in the letter.