Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

TOP STORY >>Meeting, lawsuit, appraisal add fuel

By HEATHER HARTSELL AND RICK KRON
Leader staff writers

Sherwood’s Public Facilities Board met for the first time in six years Monday afternoon to appoint two new members to the board, possibly in preparation of an upcoming purchase by the board of the North Hills Country Club.

At the same time, the appraiser, Ron Bragg, was meeting with the city engineer as he begins his final stages of his report on the golf course.

City Attorney Steve Cobb said the appraisal is a “pretty complex report and we are eager to see it, but we want Mr. Bragg to be comfortable about his report. We want it to be a quality document.”

The attorney said he wasn’t sure when the report would be completed, but expected it to be soon.

Cobb also said the city has completed its answer to a lawsuit filed against Sherwood over the moratorium it placed on any building, rezoning or revamping of the golf course. The city had 20 days to file its response. “I expect it to be officially filed by the end of the week,” Cobb said.

The facilities board last met in 2001, when it purchased Sherwood Forest for the city. It was shortly after that meeting that the board went from five to three members.

Sherwood’s facilities board has also helped acquire the ballpark, swimming pool and the police and courts building, and would be the entity to purchase the North Hills Country Club property if the city decided to go that route. Interim Mayor Bill Harmon said the city couldn’t buy the property directly, but it could be purchased through the city’s facility board, just like the board did with Sherwood Forest.

“The facility board bought it and the city paid the board back,” Harmon said. If Harmon uses the facilities board to purchase the golf course, the board’s ability to issue bonds to finance a purchase of the property would eliminate placing the purchase on a public ballot for the residents’ vote.

The Sherwood Public Facilities Board would buy the property, and then it could lease the property to the city for the amount of the monthly payments. A feasibility study, paid for by the city, recommended the city’s purchase price be $1.5 million for the 106-acre North Hills Country Club.

Developers have offered more than $5 million for the property, as recently as April. Bob Dawson, a former city attorney, and Bob Franks, a former president of the North Hills Country Club, were elected and sworn in as board members during its 15-minute meeting.

Linda Napper, a former campaign manager for the mayor, Forrest Penny and Jack Wilson complete the board and have been members since it last met.

Harmon called the board meeting to fill the voids left after one member, John Schism, resigned and another, Randy Hall, died.
The Sherwood council ap-proved the ordinance creating a Public Facilities Board in 1978 under Mayor B.E. Henson.
The ordinance 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.”

And according to the ordinance, bonds issued by the Public Facilities Board do not obligate or add debt to the city.
In 1982, the ordinance was revamped, giving he board authority to provide “financial assistance to encourage the development and establishment of public facilities projects.”

The Sherwood City Council, at its April meeting, placed a six-month moratorium on the property, stopping any preliminary or actual construction, redesign or planning work on the golf course.

The moratorium led Jim Rodgers, one of the property owners, to file an appeal in Pulaski County Circuit Court asking for the moratorium to be declared void. The city has until early next week to respond to the appeal. The moratorium caused the $5.1 million purchase of the course by businessman Ron Campbell to fall through.

But Campbell plans to make another $5 million offer for the purchase of the North Hills golf course, and is willing to go from a 200-unit development of $300,000 to $400,000 homes, down to 34 homes and keep nine holes as a golf course.
Campbell said his design would give the city the green space it wants, without the expense.