Thursday, July 17, 2008

Benton County planning board denies request for extension of permits to build huge condos on Beaver Lake

The Morning News
Local News for Northwest Arkansas

Grandview Condos Extension Denied
By Scarlet Sims
The Morning News
BENTONVILLE - The Benton County Planning Board unanimously denied a time extension request for a controversial condominium development on Tuesday. Grandview Heights at Beaver Lake can appeal the decision or resubmit plans to the Planning Office.
"I think they got themselves into this boat," Chairman Tim Sorey said after voting against the extension. "The developer brought this on himself when we warned him against it."
E&S Development of New York asked for a two-year extension for the multistory project the board approved in November 2005. Around 40 lake residents and members of the Association for Beaver Lake Environment, an environmental activist group, attended the meeting Tuesday. Several residents asked the board to deny the extension.
"There's no way they can guarantee that this project will not harm the lake," said Pat Timmons, of Rogers. "Please, please do not approve this time extension."
Developers had to show "good cause" for a time extension, according to county regulations. No other development has been denied a time extension in several years, but Director Ashley Pope pointed out no similar project has requested an extension.
Pope recommended denying the extension.
Attorney Courtney Little, representing E&S, said legal actions stalled construction work, and the economic downturn tightened lending and credit. Those two factors left the project with unfinished roads and little progress during the past year.
"Back when the market was good and things were hopping along, we were in court," Little said.
Developers spent nearly $2 million on preliminary dirt work for the project, which shows dedication to the project, Little said. Developers are committed to building the condominiums. Developers are also working with parties who filed liens against the property. Little said all but $150,000 of the liens has been paid off.
"If these guys wanted to cut and run, they could have done that a year and a half ago," Little said.
Planning board members said developers had not worked to meet the original stipulations for approval.
"There's essentially not anything for us to lay our hands on to show behind the scenes activity," board member Caleb Henry said.
Pope submitted a letter saying developers had not secured state environmental approval of their wastewater system, improved roads leading to the site and who owns the property is currently unclear. A lawsuit is pending to decide who has clear title to the property. Little said he did not receive Pope's recommendation letter until noon Wednesday.
Little said developers have concentrated on getting credit. Once a bank backs the project, the state environmental department will approve the wastewater system, he said.
Pope said developers had not met about nine original requirements for approval, including acquiring a completion bond and fire protection from the local volunteer fire department.
"My problem is that we had no performance whatsoever," Sorey said. "If they continued to work on this project for 20 years and didn't stop, I wouldn't have a problem. My problem is they stopped."
Little said the board's action send the message that opponents of developments can stall projects until they are denied. He disagrees with the board's decision because the rules should be more supportive of development, Little said. The board probably would have approved the extension if the project hadn't been so controversial, he said. Developers will decide how to proceed in the next two weeks, Little said.

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