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story.lead_photo.caption A map showing Little Italy.

After crawling through circuit court for more than a year, an appeal case involving Little Italy's proposed incorporation won't be heard, a judge has ruled.

Residents of the Pulaski County community filed the appeal in March 2016, a month after Barry Hyde, the county judge of Pulaski County, denied their effort to make the area a municipality. At a noon hearing Thursday, Judge Chris Piazza dismissed the case.

The proposed boundaries of the town included 9 square miles of timber and pasture north of Lake Maumelle at the Pulaski/Perry county border. Fewer than 400 people live inside the lines, a 30-mile drive from downtown Little Rock.

Five Italian immigrant families settled the spot after they left Chicago and Upper Michigan in 1915 for the promise of cheap land, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

They named the place "Alta Villa." Wineries sprang up, churning out gallons of port and claret wine, which peaked in popularity during the Prohibition Era. Disease eventually spoiled the grapevines.

The Catholic Church approved a parish for the secluded settlement. Now, St. Francis of Assisi Church is known for hosting an annual, well-attended spaghetti dinner.

In advance of Little Italy's 100th anniversary, community members signed a petition to incorporate. They wanted to maintain the "cultural and historical heritage" of the founders and improve civil services, according to the document, filed in May of 2015.

A prolonged spat with Pulaski County over a dumpster illustrated for resident Roger Quaid that if Little Italy incorporated, it could make its own decisions. Locals could hold the reins, he said.

The 59-year-old runs the one-cabin bed-and-breakfast, An Enchanting Evening, as well as a winery with his wife on the southeast corner of the community. They moved from Little Rock in the early 2000s to escape city life.

With the petition, Little Italy submitted a hypothetical budget. It accounted for $10,000 in startup expenses, $29,200 in ongoing expenses and $16,500 to maintain streets for 2016.

"An immigrant's frugality is at the heart of the Little Italy approach to spending," the document said.

The town wouldn't collect taxes and would continue to use its current police, fire, emergency and utility services, according to its plan.

Under state law, a county must deem the prospective area "right and proper" for incorporation, among other requirements.

Hyde denied Little Italy's petition, saying the area was unreasonably large, lacked "necessary unity of a single place" and failed to consider certain expenses, like contracting with the Pulaski County sheriff's office for police protection and paying for upkeep on roads.

A weather event could decimate the entire budget, Hyde wrote. So could the cost of three people spending a night in the county lockup.

In March 2016, Little Italy, represented by Quattlebaum, Grooms & Tull PLLC, appealed the decision to Pulaski County Circuit Court.

As the court battle inched forward -- and two circuit judges recused themselves in the process -- Central Arkansas Water intervened in the case.

Most of Little Italy lies within Lake Maumelle's watershed, the main water source for more than 400,000 people in central Arkansas. If the area were to incorporate, it would remove 5,600 acres from water-quality protections, according to a 2015 letter from C. Tad Bohannon, then the chief legal counsel for the utility.

Bohannon also claimed Little Italy gerrymandered its boundaries.

"The proposed Town is not a community with a shared background or identity; rather, it is a clump of communities with little shared interests other than attempting to avoid regulation by Pulaski County," Bohannon wrote.

Both Pulaski County and Central Arkansas Water filed motions to dismiss the case.

The county's argument was a procedural one, that circuit court does not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal because certain requirements weren't met by the plaintiffs, said Adam Fogleman, a county attorney.

Central Arkansas Water also argued it should have been named as a defendant in the case and properly served, said Judy Henry, a partner at Wright Lindsey Jennings, which represented the water agency.

At Thursday's hearing, Piazza granted both motions. The decision can be appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court or the state Court of Appeals, Fogleman said.

Kristy Eanes, whose great-grandfather, Joseph Belotti, founded Little Italy, said those who fought for incorporation will exhaust all their options.

"I am always positive and hopeful about our justice system," Eanes said.

"We will never give up our quest," she later added.

Without Little Italy incorporating, Quaid fears impending urban sprawl. Developers continue to swallow land farther and farther west of Little Rock, he said last week.

Out his window at night, Quaid said he looks at the outcropping of Pinnacle Mountain, backlit by yellow lights.

He can see the corona of the busy city, and he likes that he's not there.

Metro on 10/14/2017

Print Headline: Appeal by Little Italy to incorporate denied

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