City of Bella Vista to consider legal action against POA to secure water rights for new public safety facilities

Northwest Arkansas News

Courtesy: City of Bella Vista

BELLA VISTA, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The city of Bella Vista announced Tuesday that City Council members will consider a resolution to pursue legal action against the Bella Vista Property Owners Association amid an ongoing attempt to secure water rights for the city’s new public safety facilities.

Council members are expected to discuss the resolution in a special meeting at 3:30 p.m. on June 15.

Residents of Bella Vista voted to approve a sales tax bond in March 2020 for the construction of three public safety facilities, including a new building to house the police department, dispatch center and city court.

Design on the project began in 2020 and the City Council is to be presented with the GMP at a special meeting Tuesday, June 15.

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 to secure water from the Bella Vista Property Owners Association for fire suppression at the facility.

City officials say water for day-to-day use will be provided by Centerton Water District. However, the city reports that The CWD water lines are not large enough to supply the adequate water 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. City officials said that Cooper told the city they will not provide water to the facility and that no such agreement was ever in place.

Cooper Communities released a statement to KNWA saying the following:

Cooper Communities, Inc. is dismayed at the act of the City Council of the City of Bella Vista
threatening the Bella Vista Village Property Owners Association, Inc. with litigation.

Cooper has a dispute with the City regarding the City’s zoning property owned by Cooper in a manner that did not and does not comply with the City’s zoning ordinances. Moreover, Cooper has never said to the City that Cooper would deny water to the City and Cooper has sent a letter dated April 27, 2021 offering to meet with City officials to resolve such matters to which the City has never responded. Both the Mayor’s statements and the City’s press releases on these matters have been incomplete and inaccurate and have failed to address or even mention the City’s erroneous and illegal actions.

Litigation should be a last resort in such matters and it is incumbent upon the City and its officials to act to avoid such a waste of taxpayer’s funds. Cooper remains open to meeting with the City officials to resolve such disputes.

Cooper Communities

The city is currently in the process of using eminent domain to secure the water. In this case, the city is aiming to secure the rights in a certain area of that water line to allow connection. Then, once the eminent domain process is complete, city officials say the city plans to ask the POA to provide the actual water at that connection.

The city approached the POA first to agree on a written Memo of Understanding for the provision of the water.

The POA board on Thursday, June 10 voted NOT to provide water to the city for this building.

As a result, the city will discuss Tuesday afternoon entering into the legal process against the POA and Cooper Communities to condemn that part of the water system and get the needed water to the building, or the other option of re-designing the facility with an additional cost of more than half a million dollars to include a water tank to meet fire suppression needs.

City officials said the funds required to revamp the project would come from the city’s taxpayer cash reserves, not the approved bond.

The POA board members who voted against providing water said at the meeting June 10 that they fear Cooper will get in the way of a future assessment increase.

The Bella Vista POA released a response to the potential lawsuit:

In response to the announcement from the City of Bella Vista regarding their potential lawsuit against the Bella Vista POA, we have the following facts and comments.

The Bella Vista Property Owners Association Board of Directors has always been, and remains, supportive of the City’s efforts to build a new police headquarters (“Public Safety Facility”). This planned facility is needed for our growing community. Since learning about this project over two years ago, the Property Owners Association has made it clear repeatedly to the City of Bella Vista that approval from Cooper Communities was required to provide water service to the site.

In late 2019, Chief Operating Officer Tom Judson was contacted by the BV Police Chief regarding water service for the new police headquarters. From the onset, Mr. Judson made it clear to the Police Chief that since the location of the proposed police headquarters is outside the control of the Association, Cooper Communities would need to grant approval to provide water service to building site. The Property Owners Association provides water service to the residents, businesses, and municipal buildings located within the boundaries of the Association.

On November 5, 2019, the Police Chief, John Cooper of Cooper Communities, and Mr. Judson met to discuss the project. At this meeting, Mr. Cooper stated he was supportive of the project and allowing the Property Owners Association to provide water service to the site. At the meeting, Mr. Judson stated it would be best for the City of Bella Vista and Cooper Communities to document an agreement.

Earlier this year, Mr. Judson was notified by the Bella Vista Mayor that Cooper Communities was not willing to allow the Property Owners Association to provide water service to the proposed site of the new police headquarters. On March 11, 2021, Mr. Judson met with the President of Cooper Communities. At this meeting, Mr. Judson asked for the authorization to provide water service to the new police headquarters. The President of Cooper Communities stated that Cooper Communities was unwilling to grant this authorization, citing the Property Owners Association’s governing documents (Article VI, Section 1 of the Declaration) which states “the Developer [Cooper Communities] shall be the sole judge as to the time when the water system shall be constructed and shall also be the sole judge as to when such system shall be extended from time to time.” Mr. Judson subsequently informed the Mayor of the decision by Cooper Communities.

The Board of Directors encourages the City of Bella Vista and Cooper Communities work together
cooperatively to come to a resolution on this matter. Once the Property Owners Association has been granted by Cooper Communities the authority to provide water to the site, the Association will do so as quickly as possible.

Finally, the city’s press release suggests a POA assessment increase is in the works. City leaders should remember that there is now a minimum three-year moratorium between assessment increases. The Board of Directors is in the initial stages of creating a long-range strategic plan. This long-range plan, which will include a timeline of proposed future assessment increases, is tentatively scheduled to be completed in 2022 and will be presented to the Bella Vista community for input and comment at that time.

Bella Vista Property Owners Association

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