Monday, July 14, 2008

Grandview Heights (the Aspen Ridge of Benton County) back on county agenda Wednesday night

The Grandview Heights condo developers are back, this time to request a two-year extension from the Benton County Planning Board. This is a chance to kill this project once and for all!

The Planning board meeting will be at 5:30 on Wednesday, July 16. It will be held in the Quorum Court room (3rd floor), in the Benton County Administration building. This building is just east of the courthouse located on the Bentonville Square. The room isn’t real large, so please get there between 4:30 and 5 if possible. If you are comfortable doing so, please plan on speaking during the public comment period. There is a 3-minute limit per person and of course you don’t have to use the full time. I will provide some talking points below. There are a lot of issues to talk about, so just pick a few points that you are comfortable talking about.

In addition to having people speak during the time allotted for public comment, it would be a good idea to over pack the room. This would send a message to the planning board that there are still many concerned citizens who do not want this project’s developers to do any more damage than they already have. So even if you don't speak, please be there and come early - the room will probably over fill. By the way - if we fill the room by 4:30 or 5 - there will not be room for the condo team to come in and sit down other than their speaker. I don't anticipate very many red shirts coming out to support the condos.

Some background for any of you who are wondering what the meeting is all about:

Grandview Heights was approved in 2005 with a list of 13 required items and a 2 year window in which to pull a building permit. The approval was for a 15-story condo building, and two additional buildings up to 25 stories each. The 2 years expire on July 21st. Now they are asking for a 2-year extension.

The main overriding issue is that the condo project is in such a mess financially; it is unlikely they can get a completion bond – one of the 13 items required by the County. If they can't get the completion bond (which requires a strong financial position) then they can't get a building permit and therefore cannot build the project.

What is the financial mess? They are in foreclosure on the property - 2 entities are fighting over who is first in line to foreclose. A foreclosure is a lawsuit - so both the seller of the property and a group that lent them money are suing the developer. There are also liens against the property for unpaid work done at the site. Neither the dirt work contractor nor the engineering firm has been paid and the team that designed the sewage treatment system also has not been paid. And, it is astonishing to me that the property taxes are delinquent. I'm not surprised the taxes weren't paid - I'm astonished that the developer has the nerve to go in and ask the same County for an extension! This alone should make them ineligible to ask for more time.

There are many other reasons not to give an extension. In 2 1/2 years, they have not completed any of the 13 requirements the County gave this project. The Arkansas Dept. of Environmental Quality denied their request for a sewage treatment facility. and – they never completed a fire study and therefore do not have the required agreement with the fire department.

Ultimately, the developers could not perform, scarred the land, and ripped off some local companies as well as the county taxpayers! Why would this planning board even consider an extension for this project?

The County Planning Regulations (Blue Book) state in Chapter I Section 5 (page 6):

"The planning board may modify, vary, or waive the requirements of this ordinance by an affirmative vote of two-thirds (2/3) vote of the total membership of the Benton County Planning Board. Note: a two-thirds vote of the attending quorum is not sufficient. The criteria to grant such modification, variances, or waiver shall be, without exception, and singularly because strict compliance with any provision of this ordinance would cause exceptional or undue hardship to the land developer. Additionally, extra expense, economic hardship, or additional outlay of capital funds or money shall never constitute grounds for exceptional or undue hardship".

So, someone needs to state that any vote for an extension would require 5 yes votes, and that there is no reason that the developers can give for an extension other than economic hardship, and that is specifically excluded in the Planning regulations as stated above.

If you cannot attend the meeting on the 16th, or do not wish to speak, please email your arguments to the Planning Director and Planning Board members below.

Planning Director Ashley Pope –
Bill Kneebone
Caleb Henry
Heath Ward
Mark Gray
Scott Borman
Tim Sorey
Adele Lucus unknown

Please participate. Only through all of our efforts will we succeed!

I expect to hear a really slick sales pitch on the 16th from the developer’s attorney. It will probably be something like… “we have investors lined up, but they won’t invest unless you give us the additional time”. The media will all be there. Hope to see you on the 16th at 4:30 (meeting starts at 5:30)!

Doug Timmons
President, ABLE

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