City Council votes to pursue legal action
City of Bella Vista City Council members voted 4-2 Tuesday to allow the city to pursue legal proceedings against the Bella Vista Property Owners Association, in order to secure water necessary for fire suppression at its future public safety facility.
Council members Steve Bourke and Doug Fowler opposed the resolution.
“It’s obvious to me the right thing to do is to commence litigation,” said Council Member John Flynn. “Sometimes you have to sue people you like, but we have to do what’s in the best interest of the people.”
Residents of Bella Vista approved by vote in March 2020 a sales tax bond for the construction of three public safety facilities, including a new building to house the police department, dispatch center and city court.
Design on this project began in 2020 and the City Council was presented with the GMP of $16.3 million at the special meeting Tuesday, along with the resolution seeking permission to proceed with legal action to secure the water supply.
Due to the location of the planned facility – near the intersection of Rogers Road and Ark. Hwy. 279 on city-owned land adjacent to the city’s existing Street Department – the city was originally working with Cooper Communities with an understanding they would allow water from the Bella Vista Property Owners Association for fire suppression at the facility.
Water for day-to-day use will be provided by Centerton Water District, whose lines are not large enough to supply the adequate water volume and pressure needed for fire suppression and to be sure the building meets the state’s fire code.
Cooper Communities does not own the POA’s water system but has say-so as to who is provided water, via POA covenants. Cooper has since told the city they will not provide water to the facility, and that no such agreement was ever in place.
The city is currently in the process of securing the water from Cooper via eminent domain, after being given the go-ahead by council members in May. In this case, however, it’s not a physical thing the city will be securing, but rather the rights in a certain area of that water line to allow connection. Staff Attorney Jason Kelley told the council that is what makes this problem unique. Once that court process is complete, the city will still need the POA to provide the actual water at that connection.
The city approached the POA board on June 10 to agree on a written Memo of Understanding for the provision of the water, which was drafted jointly before that meeting by the city and POA attorneys, Christie said. The POA board that day voted not to provide water to the city for this building.
Kelley said the litigation against the POA and Cooper is not about whether the city can take the connection and the water, it’s only about the value. Once the city begins proceedings, state law will allow possession and the project to continue to avoid further delays.
Christie told the council the ramifications if court proceedings were not approved are inflated costs of construction, based on current trends and recommendations of the contractor and architect. The city would be faced with starting fresh and re-designing the facility, to include a water tank to meet fire suppression needs.
This addition would cost the city more than $500,000 and would be paid for from the city’s taxpayer cash reserves, and not the voter-approved bond, Christie said.
Bourke said the city is in a good place now to be able to take on this expense.
“That is the superior approach to litigation with key partners in the history of Bella Vista,” Bourke said.
The POA board members who voted against providing water noted at the meeting June 10, during Mayor Peter Christie’s presentation requesting the MOU, that they fear Cooper will get in the way of a future assessment increase.
Council members also voted 6-0 to approve the GMP for the facility.