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FAYETTEVILLE -- Justices of the peace have been offered a settlement to end a lawsuit against Washington County over the Quorum Court denying a permit for a wedding venue near Greenland.

County Attorney Brian Lester asked each justice of the peace about the settlement offer in email last week. The offer will be discussed during the next Quorum Court meeting, he said.

Meeting

Who: Washington County Quorum Court

When: 6 p.m. Jan. 18

Where: Quorum Court Room, County Courthouse, 280 N. College Ave.

Source: Staff report

Planning facts

The Washington County Planning Department helps developers bring their plans into compliance with county ordinances, reviews development proposals and recommends ordinances or policy changes on land-use matters. The Planning Board reviews land development proposals to make sure they comply with county ordinances. The Washington County Quorum Court ratifies development proposals that need zoning changes.

Source: Washington County Planning Department

Terry Presley sued the county and County Judge Joseph Wood on March 3. Presley has asked a circuit judge to overturn the Quorum Court's decision denying a permit for a wedding barn and event center on 7 acres at 5241 Shaeffer Road. Presley and his sister, Vickie Presley Hassell, want to build a 6,900-square-foot center, but neighboring property owners protested strongly.

Neighbors argued the property was too small for the center, could cause sediment pollution in the White River and was not compatible, among other things. The property is zoned agriculture and single-family residential.

The Planning Board approved the permit, and the Quorum Court had no real reason to deny it, according to the suit. Presley's attorney, W.H. Taylor, has filed a motion asking a judge to decide the case.

Taylor didn't return phone messages left at his office Friday and Tuesday.

Eva Madison, a Democrat representing northeastern Fayetteville, provided email between herself, Taylor, Lester and two neighboring property owners who oppose the project after Lester notified justices of the peace about the settlement offer.

In that offer, Presley would abide by restrictions, and the county would pave the road.

Presley originally agreed to multiple concessions to appease neighbors, including limited operation hours, number of events and music, records show. Presley also agreed to maintain the landscaping and not provide alcohol for events.

"I would propose a settlement along the following lines: My people will abide by the restrictions that the Washington County professionals placed on them in approving the conditional use permit," Taylor said in a Dec. 1 email to Lester.

Lester said he didn't have an opinion on Taylor's offer. Paving the road was proposed to reduce dust, Lester said.

Taylor added the case should be worked out between parties instead of before a judge. That sentiment echoed an earlier email from Lester, who wrote Oct. 30 to a neighbor saying the county judge "favors compromise that benefits everyone involved."

The decision on a settlement is up to the Quorum Court, Lester said.

Madison said she's concerned about how Lester is handling the case, including sending an email to individual justices of the peace. Lester said the email was solely to determine if justices of the peace wanted to discuss the settlement. He said he asked justices of the peace to respond only to him because he didn't want them getting into a debate and violating the state Freedom of Information Act.

Whether Lester's email to justices of the peace violates state law is unclear, said John Tull, general counsel for the Arkansas Press Association. It depends on whether Lester intended to avoid public discussion, he said.

Madison didn't provide Lester with a comment on the lawsuit, she said. Public business should be done in public, she said.

Justice of the Peace Joel Maxwell, a Republican representing western Washington County, said he thought Lester sent the email to decide whether to add the settlement option to a county agenda.

NW News on 01/04/2018

Print Headline: Lawsuit settlement option sent to justices of the peace

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