Alma city officials are prepping to take on the costs for the Arkansas 162 highway project.

Mayor John Ballentine and aldermen heard the first estimates on the costs to negotiate right of way purchases for the project during the Alma City Council meeting Thursday night.

This is the first step in the process to prep the section of road that will receive improvements, such as a bypass of the downtown area.

Though the project itself is federally funded, the city must take on certain costs, such as the purchase of rights of way and utility relocation, said Mark Yardley, public works director for Alma.

Yardley is in contact with three companies that have the specialized skills to navigate the purchase of the rights of way, which include appraisal, appraisal review, negotiation and relocation services.

Universal Field Services provided the first set of bids at a cost that exceeded Yardley’s expectations by more than $100,000, he said.

At the suggestion of city council members Doug Wilson and Rinda Baker, Yardley will request estimates from the other two companies, he said.

Yardley pointed out that for a federally funded project, the city must follow certain regulation in the purchase of the rights of way.

"It’s a very specialized area…and this is all these companies do," Yardley explained. "But it’s expensive."

Also at the meeting, city council members once again tabled a request by Steve Nguyen to rezone his property on the corner of West Cherry and Grant streets for residential housing. Nguyen purchased the property about seven years ago, he said, as a commercial property.

According to plans given to city officials, Nguyen hopes to build a fourplex of townhouses with parking on the .24 acre sect of land.

Joey Marrone, owner of J and S Construction, spoke for Nguyen at the city council meeting.

Marrone said that other properties in the area are currently residential or unused. He said Nguyen’s property has no capacity for commercialization.

"Now he’s revisiting it, hoping that his investment in Alma is going to come to fruit," Marrone said.

Several council members were reluctant to approve the rezoning, they said.

Alderwoman Rinda Baker, an attorney who said she is familiar with Alma’s zoning laws, pointed out that the property was zoned as commercial when purchased.

Baker said she would rather speak to property owners in the area as a collective, to see if others are also in favor of rezoning.

"I am much more sympathetic to it if we can get the other property owners in here and discuss it," she said.

After the meeting, Baker explained that while other properties in the area are currently residential, they were grandfathered in and are only zoned as such as long as they are still under the original owner.

Once those residential properties go up for sale, they will be re-classed as commercial, she said.

Ballentine and council members also felt some of Nguyen’s plans for the property were questionable, such as lack of "greenspace," they said.

Letters will be sent out to the other property owners, inviting them to a special meeting and public hearing to discuss the rezoning issue, Ballentine said.

Council members approved the annexation of an area along Rudy Road. The properties annexed were surrounded by property already within the city limits, according to the ordinance.