Tuesday, May 29, 2007

TOP STORY >>Purchase of course may skirt by voters

Leader staff writer

Sherwood could spend millions buying the North Hills golf course without a vote of the residents. In previous council meetings, interim Mayor Bill Harmon had said that the issue would go before the people, but now he is saying that the city’s Public Facilities Board could actually buy the course and then lease it to the city for the amount of the monthly payments.

The council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the police department building, and although the golf course is not on the agenda, a pro-Harmon blog dedicated to saving the golf course is asking for everyone in favor of keeping the golf course to show up.

The blog calls the council meeting important and states, “We need everyone in favor of Keeping Sherwood Green to attend the meeting.”

In the meantime, the owners of the golf course are fielding calls from two or three prospective buyers. “But no one wants to commit until the building moratorium gets lifted,” said Rodgers.

Rodgers also added that he is still talking to Ron Campbell who initially tendered a $5.1 million offer for the 106-acre property with plans to build a gated community of $300,000 to $400,000 single-family homes. The Campbell deal fell through after the city council approved the six-month moratorium stopping any and all preliminary or actual construction, redesign or planning work on the golf course.

The moratorium led Rodgers to file an appeal in Pulaski County Circuit Court asking for the moratorium to be declared void.
The city has 20 days, about June 8, to respond to the appeal. The council is also waiting for an appraisal of the golf course. That appraisal is expected to be ready in about a week.

The Sherwood council ap-proved the ordinance creating a Public Facility Board in 1978 under Mayor B.E. Henson.
The current three-member board includes two members who have addresses outside of Sherwood. Chairman Linda Napper has a North Little Rock address and Jack Wilson has a Jacksonville address. The third member, Forrest Penny, lists a Sherwood address.

The ordinance does not address whether members need to be city residents, but is based on a 1975 state law that allows for the organization of a Public Facilities Board. The state law says these boards can have numerous purposes, “including the developing and providing for decent, safe and sanitary residential housing.”

The board was empowered “to win, acquire, construct, reconstruct, extend, equip, improve, operate, maintain, sell, lease, contact concerning or otherwise detail in or dispose of residential housing facilities or any interest in such facilities.”
The board has the authority to issue bonds and “obtain funds and revenues for the accomplishment of any authorized public facilities projects.

Bonds issued by the Public Facilities Board do not obligate or add debt to the city, according to the ordinance. The ordinance was expanded in 1982, also under Mayor Henson, to “encourage the development and establishment of such public facilities projects…for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety.”

The legal action that the owners of the golf course property have taken against the city names the city, the mayor and all eight aldermen as defendants.

According to the appeal, the city discussed and voted on the resolution April 23 even though it was not on the original agenda. The resolution called for a “six-month moratorium on the filing of applications for rezonings, subdivision plats and for the issuance of building permits for the area known as North Hills Country Club.”

The Sherwood City Council voted 8-0 to approve the resolution.

The owners’ attorney, Stuart Hankins, in the appeal, called the resolution “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, unlawful, oppressive and discriminatory.”

The appeal states the city’s actions were improper because it only applies to “the North Hills Country Club property and no other property or property owner in the City of Sherwood is affected by it.”

Hankins said the moratorium is “unlawful because its stated purpose exceeds the statuary power granted to cities to condemn property.”