Thursday, October 22, 2009

Northwest Arkansas Times reports on livestock-auction owners appeal of city decision on rezoning

Sale barn owners sue Fayetteville

Bartholomews suing city for denying rezoning request

By Scott F Davis

Thursday, October 22, 2009

FAYETTEVILLE — Billy Joe Bartholomew, of Prairie Grove, has never been sued or sued anybody - until now, he said Wednesday.

“We’ve just decided it’s time to take a stand,” he said. “I didn’t want to do it. It’s just the fact that we got a raw deal of it.”

The owners of the Washington County Livestock Auction property late Friday afternoon filed a notice of appeal of the Fayetteville City Council’s decision Sept. 15 to deny a rezoning request that would have allowed the sale of the property.

Attorney John Everett filed the appeal in Washington County Circuit Court for Bartholomew and his father, Argil, who own the nine-acre tract in their revocable trusts.

Billy Joe Bartholomew’s grandfather, Bill, built the sale barn in 1936, and the family has operated it until it closed in June. Campus Crest LLC , a Charlotte, N.C., construction company, had contracted to purchase the property for an undisclosed price to build upscale apartments targeting University of Arkansas students.

The sale was contingent upon the rezoning of the property from Industrial to Downtown General to allow the construction.

Family frustrated

Bartholomew said he is frustrated that the council voted against the rezoning after the city’s planning staff recommended approval and the city’s Planning Commission voted 6-1 to approve the request. The process dragged on for months.

Bartholomew and other family members are also dismayed because for years they’ve listened to complaints about noise and odor. They’ve heard fussing about traffic problems caused by farmers hauling cattle in and out of the city. Once they can finally sell and leave, the city blocks the deal, he said.

“They did not have any good excuse,” he said.

Developers insisted the rezoning met all of the city’s goals under its 2025 plan, including infill, revitalization and encouraging a traditional form of development.

In a 3-4 vote, the council denied the request based on concerns about traffic and the lack of compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood, City Attorney Kit Williams said.

Veteran factor

Before the vote, dozens of neighbors and military veterans spoke against the request because apartments for college students were planned and the property is immediately across Government Avenue from the Fayetteville National Cemetery.

Veterans had lobbied the council because they wanted the property for future expansion of the cemetery, but lack of funding nixed this option.

Bartholomew said he’d talked to cemetery officials several times over the year about their interest in buying the property, but nothing ever happened.

“Every year or two they came by wanting to buy, but that went on for 10 years,” he said.

Williams said he advised council members that they could not base their decision on who they thought should own the property.

“I wanted it to be a fair decision,” he said.

No tiebreaker

The outcome of the council vote was not the only sticking point for the Bartholomews. They didn’t like the way the vote went down.

Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan managed to avoid voting on this controversial issue. Alderman Robert Rhoads slipped out of the meeting “for a personal matter” before the vote and then returned later.

He said in an interview afterward that he’d planned to vote for the rezoning request. If that had happened, Jordan would have been forced to vote to break a 4-4 tie.

Jordan did not return a phone message or e-mail seeking comment on the appeal, referring comment to Williams.

Bartholomew said he thought Jordan should have had to vote one way or the other.

“He did not have to show his hand this way,” he said.

Difficult issue

“It was a difficult issue,” Williams said. “There were good arguments on both sides.”

The standard for review in these types of appeals is whether the council’s decision was based on substantial evidence or was arbitrary and capricious.

He said he expects the city to prevail because the council is allowed discretion in these types of decisions.

Based on the facts, he said he thinks the council could have voted either way and prevailed on appeal. He does not believe the council’s decision was arbitrary.

The city has 30 days to file an answer in the case, Williams said.

News, Pages 1 on 10/22/2009

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