P&Z gives OK to Longhills plan; dormant golf course to be brought back to life

A Planned Unit Development for the dormant Longhills Golf Course was approved by the Benton Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday night.

During the commission's regular monthly meeting, a public comment period was held and a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall heard details of the proposal to bring the golf course back to life and to include new multi-family housing units, a clubhouse, a swimming pool and a commercial property site within the development.

Ken Fugitt, a representative of Lindsey Management Co., presented the commission with a drawing of the planned development and provided details of the proposed site plan.

The PUD presented to the commission involves a plan to build 793 multi-family dwelling units confined to the area west of Augusta Drive, the main entrance to Longhills Village at Arkansas 5, and bounded by Longhills Road to the south and Mink Road to the east.

During Phase 1, a total of 612 units will be built in this area with the remaining 182 units to be completed following the temporary occupancy certificate of the 300th unit. The total area of the PUD is 177 acres.
In addition to the housing units, a swimming pool, a clubhouse including a fitness center and other amenities will be built specifically for residents of the complex.

The current clubhouse and pool on the Longhills property will be renovated and opened for use by the public.

The public comment portion of the meeting drew nearly unanimous support for the project,
Norma McCollough, a resident of Longhills Village and a local real estate agent, said that only four houses had been sold in the golf course community development thus far in 2014.

"With the golf course in limbo, buyers are waiting to see what is going to happen," McCullough said.

She noted that the continuing decline of the course has caused property values in the subdivision to fall.

"If you approve this project, sales and property values will increase," she predicted.

George Davis was the only resident to speak in opposition to the project because he believes the increased traffic along Longhills Road will create a safety hazard.

"I am disappointed in the changes to the plan," Davis said. "Traffic from the apartments will come to Longhills instead of Highway 5."

Davis contends that in talks he had with the development company's attorney, he was assured him that an entrance to the complex would be moved to Highway 5 instead of Longhills Road.

Commissioner Phillip James asked for clarification from the attorney from Lindsey Management about an agreement reached with property owners that allowed the project to move forward.

Nearly three years ago, the project came before the Planning Commission and the City Council for approval, but legal issues related to a covenant dated in the late 1950s prevented use of the Longhills Golf Course property for anything other than golf or swimming.

The Lindsey attorney said an agreement with property owners was an all-or-nothing proposition, meaning every property owner involved in legal matters that objected to the project several years ago had to agree to stipulations or the plans for the golf course could not happen. An agreement was reached in May of this year.

In the agreement, no multi-family dwelling units can be built on the golf course property east of Augusta Drive for 25 years following the beginning of construction on Phase 1 of the PUD. A restriction of 15 years was set if the same land were to be used for single family-housing units in a subdivision.

After the public comment portion of the meeting, the commission voted unanimously to send the PUD to the council for a vote in the Aug. 24 meeting.