Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

TOP STORY >>Spurned buyer revamps plan

Leader staff writer

Businessman Ron Campbell, whose $5.1 million offer to buy the North Hills golf course for a 200-home development was derailed by the Sherwood city council, has a new plan for the 106-acre facility.

Campbell is proposing to build 34 homes, leave the front nine-holes as a golf course and donate land—the equivalent of two fairways near Club Road to the city.

The developer tried to speak during the new business phase of Tuesday’s city council meeting but was denied the opportunity. City Attorney Steve Cobb told Campbell as he tried to speak that because a lawsuit had been filed against the city in this matter he had advised the aldermen not to speak about the issue.

“But I’m not part of that lawsuit, I have a right to be heard, I will be heard or arrested trying,” Campbell said, at which time the council quickly adjoined the meeting and Police Chief Kel Nicholson asked everyone to continue any discussions outside the building. A police officer escorted Campbell out mainly for his safety as tempers started to flare in the mostly pro-golf course crowd.

The developer says his design will give the city the green space it wants, without the expense.

Campbell’s first deal fell through after the city council approved a six-month moratorium, at their April meeting, stopping any and all preliminary or actual construction, redesign or planning work on the golf course.

The moratorium led Jim Rodgers, one of the owners, to file an appeal in Pulaski County Circuit Court asking for the moratorium to be declared void.

The city has 20 days, or until 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 this week. Campbell, who has already spent more than $600,000 pursuing the property, said if the issue goes to court, someone will end up building 200 homes on that site. “That’s what is most profitable,” he said. Campbell said his new idea is still in the rough draft plan and that he doesn’t have the property under contract at the moment but “is still on speaking terms with the owners.”

“This is a happy medium,” Campbell said, adding that the city needs to “come to their senses and realize that they can’t afford it.”

Campbell says the owners want to sell the property, and not for $1.5 million that the feasibility study recommends, but for $5.1 million. “And I want to buy it for $5.1 million and build very niceestate homes on the acreage. I’m not asking for apartments or high rises, just 34 homes, two streets and a small quiet commercial zone,” he said.

In previous council meetings, interim Mayor Bill Harmon had said that the issue should 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.

Jim Rodgers, one of the owners of the golf course and country club says he is still fielding calls from two or three prospective buyers. “But no one wants to commit until the building moratorium gets lifted,” said Rodgers. Campbell’s plans call for building a street down the middle of what is currently the fourth fairway and building 14 homes there.

Those homeowners would be the owners of the nine-hole golf course that would abut their property.“Those owners would be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the course. He would build one more street the length of the property to house 10 homes on each side on large estate size lots. “Again, that will create a lot of green space.” Campbell said.

Then he’ll donate the equivalent of about two fairways, near Club Road, to the city as green or park space. 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 filling of applications for rezonings, subdivision plats and for the issuance of building permits for the area known as North Hills Country Club.”

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