Robert Webb doesn't live in any of the three neighborhoods where a Technology Park could be built in Little Rock, but he's still demonstrating against displacing local homeowners outside Wednesday's Technology Park Authority Board meeting.
"I'm just here because I want to make sure everybody understands just because it's their neighborhood this week, next week it could be ours," he said. "There's already been the state fair suggestion, now this. Any of us could be next, we're already in danger."
Folks living in three locations being considered as the Park's possible placement have been speaking out against being forced to move.
"I don't care which site it is, they shouldn't take anyone's house from them for a Tech Park," said resident Donald Wade who lives in Oak Forest. "They want to do it because their research has shown the Tech Park needs to be five or ten minutes from UALR and UAMS. I call bull crap. These poor Tech people can't commute to their work? Give me a break, we bus kids to school at twice that amount of commute."
Chancellor Dan Rahn of UAMS and Chancellor Joel Anderson of UALR, two of the major institutional partners for the park, addressed the board saying they have heard the community's concerns.
"Individuals and families should not be harmed as a consequence of this initiative," Rahn told the board. "This is a long range goal. There are economic development goals and community development goals. This should be a mutually beneficial process."
He went on to note that he had personally driven through the neighborhoods currently being considered for the site.
"I've been able to see firsthand that while there are houses and homes in disrepair there are many, many more homes that are well-cared for and owner-occupied," he said.
Rahn recommended that the board create a community advisory committee, be open to considering alternative locations, and relax the five minute campus commute rule.
"That seems to be a stumbling block at the present time," he said. "Adherence to close proximity to the campuses should not take priority over interests of individuals, families and the community."
Rahn's strong stance, received a round of applause from the audience in attendance.
Anderson took a less stringent stance on residential impact.
"We've recently had a lot of experts on the location of Tech Parks," he said. "Location of the Tech Park matters. It matters to homeowners who may be affected and that's an important consideration. A Tech Park will change many lives in the short run as this Board acquires property and relocates residents and businesses from whichever site is chosen."
"These residents and businesses are our neighbors," he went on to say. "They are our students, staff, faculty, as well as your friends. It's essential these persons not bear a disproportionate or undue hardship because of this project."
Anderson suggested the board go ahead and select one site from the three being considered, but allow for a window of opportunity where members of the community could make alternative suggestions.
He also wanted the Board to publicly explain the property acquirement process.
"This is not a time to hold cards close to your vest. Without concrete details the unknown gives rise to unnecessary and understandable fears based on feelings rather than facts," he said.
Much like Rahn, Anderson suggested the creation of a Task Force comprised of Board members, community representatives, and public/private agency reps to work through issues of the process as the Park progresses.
Anderson also asked the Board to publicly affirm that as the project moves forward all citizens would be treated equitably and that eminent domain would be a last resort when aiming to acquire property.
"We'll try to see what to do next as a next step," Board Chair Mary Good said following the presentations.
She did not provide any comments regarding the possibility of considering alternative locations, but at the beginning of the meeting she had pointed out the Authority had spent $100,000 on a study to select the "very best" possible locations from numerous locations across the city. However, it should be noted one of the key criteria to that site selection was the five to ten-minute commute rule from the UALR and UAMS campuses.
The board essentially took no action regarding the Chancellors' recommendations, but essentially conceded to consider them.
Until concrete commitments come their way, folks like Robert Webb intend to continue protesting the Park Authority's eminent domain power.
"Pretty soon, who knows, they may come up with another great idea and decide to displace some more of us," Webb said.
They've set up a petition to encourage the Little Rock Board of Directors to withhold some $22 million in taxpayer funds that the Park is set to receive to prevent it from displacing those in residential neighborhoods. You can find the petition by clicking here.