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story.lead_photo.caption The Washington County Courthouse, Tuesday, February 14, 2017 in downtown Fayetteville. - Photo by David Gottschalk

FAYETTEVILLE — A proposed wedding venue near Greenland is creating a struggle between some members of the Washington County Quorum Court and county judge’s office employees over land-use regulations and the appeal of a lawsuit.

The Quorum Court, which is the county’s legislative branch of government, told the county judge to appeal a lawsuit it lost last month. The aim was to stop Terry Presley from building the venue on his land at 5241 Shaeffer Road and to prevent the Washington County Circuit Court from setting any legal precedence to force the Quorum Court to ratify all Planning Board approvals, justices of the peace have said.

The county judge oversees the county attorney. None of the county judge’s employees have followed the Quorum Court’s wishes, said Justice of the Peace Eva Madison, a Democrat representing northwestern Fayetteville.

About the White River Landing wedding venue

Washington County planning staff members reviewed the White River Landing large-scale development proposal during a technical advisory meeting Tuesday. The project includes remodeling and adding on 1,887 square feet to an existing 2,650-square-foot structure on Presley’s 7 acres near the West Fork of the White River. The venue also will have a 1,908-square-foot outdoor covered area.

Source: Washington County Planning Department

County Attorney Brian Lester, who is also the county spokesman, said in email County Judge Joseph Wood wanted to get an opinion on the case, as per the Quorum Court’s directive, and to then give the Quorum Court an assessment. Any appeal would be filed Friday, he said.

“Once the (quorum court) has the ability to review the assessment, should they so choose to continue with the appeal, the notice will be filed,” Lester said in email.

Presley sued the county last year after the Quorum Court denied him a permit, citing reasons from noise to rain runoff. A Circuit Court judge sided with Presley last month. That means the county can either appeal the ruling or approve the permit.

Presley needs a permit because his property is zoned for agriculture or single-home residential use. Neighbors have strongly protested the wedding venue.

Lester responded Tuesday to questions from Madison, who provided the email exchange.

He said the county hasn’t filed a notice of appeal because the 30-day deadline doesn’t expire until May 24, which is after the Quorum Court meeting at 6 p.m. tonight. He debated whether the Quorum Court approved appealing the case, but the motion to appeal and to hire outside counsel is recorded in an online video posted to Fayetteville’s official website.

Fayetteville records and hosts the county’s meeting videos for the county.

The Quorum Court voted 10-2 to appeal the court decision and to hire an outside attorney to determine whether it is worth pursing. The appeal could be dropped later, justices of the peace said.

Republicans Robert Dennis and Butch Pond voted against an appeal. One justice of the peace abstained, and two were absent. Justice of the Peace Joel Maxwell, a Republican who represents western Washington County and who voted for the appeal, referred questions to Lester.

Wood sought legal advice from the Association of Arkansas Counties instead of hiring an attorney, according to the email exchange between Madison and Lester. An association spokeswoman confirmed Washington County officials have been in an ongoing conversation with the association’s chief legal council about whether to appeal.

The county is a member of the association’s fund that covers costs for certain lawsuits, but an appeal like this would not be covered, said Christy Smith, association spokeswoman. Attorneys at Rainwater, Holt & Sexton, who typically represent the county, said they are unaware of any appeal of Presley’s lawsuit.

Lester said the association’s attorney “does not feel that the County will prevail in the appeal.” But, the association’s attorney is not the same as hiring an outside attorney, Madison said.

“There is no room in there for you or Judge Wood to disregard our vote to appeal (and dismiss later, if we wanted to) and only get the assessment,” Madison wrote to Lester.

County employees under Wood are moving Presley’s project forward, despite the Quorum Court’s desire to stop it. Presley met Tuesday with Planning Department staff about a large-scale development permit, which is the next step before starting construction. Approval of the large-scale development permit would be contingent upon the Quorum Court ratifying the conditional use permit, Senior Planner Nathan Crouch said.

Lester and Carl Gales, the county’s chief of staff, want to go ahead with the process for the large-scale development permit, Crouch said. The conditional use permit also is back on the Quorum Court agenda for tonight.

Justice of the Peace Ann Harbison, a Democrat representing southern Washington County, said she tried to contact Wood but hasn’t reached him. Lester said Wood left messages for Harbison on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The proposed venue is in Harbison’s district.

“I think everybody is unsure about what’s going on,” Harbison said.

Republicans Robert Dennis and Butch Pond voted against an appeal. One justice of the peace abstained, and two were absent.


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