Walnut Ridge sued over condemnation

By Stan Morris | NEA Report

WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. – The City of Walnut Ridge is a defendant in a lawsuit by two sisters over a condemnation effort to their property.

For months, a battle has raged over the condemnation efforts of several properties and all have been resolved or seem to be except for one – a property on U.S. 67, owned by Wanda Thorton and Louise Sifford, the sisters of former Mayor J.R. Rogers. Rogers had been managing the upkeep, or lack thereof, of the property in question and had even committed to a Jonesboro Sun reporter to tear “it” down in the Spring of 2016.A building, up for condemnation, on U.S. 67 North in Walnut Ridge.

However, a week later, Rogers commitment was exclusive to only a portion of the building and he said he never intended to remove the entire structure. It had history to him and he became emotional while speaking about it to an NEA Reporter.

The city placed the building in condemnation and Fire Chief Frank Owens issued Rogers a stop-work order, due to what he described as plans that were insufficient and not architecturally sound or even properly approved. Only Alderman Jeff Taylor dissented with the decision by the Walnut Ridge council, passed in Resolution 2016-22.

The process had stalled until Wednesday afternoon, when the City of Walnut Ridge, the mayor, and the entire city council was served with a lawsuit from Thorton and Sifford.

  • The lawsuit claims Ordinance No. 693-05, defining a nuisance property, is unconstitutional. The plaintiffs make the allegation based on the ordinance not providing “notice to all persons who may be impacted by the condemnation of the property.” The allegation seems to stem from the word “or.” More specifically, the ordinance says notice is to be provided to the owner, occupant, “or” the person in custody of the condemned property. The suit asks the court to declare the ordinance unconstitutional and the city powerless, based on this.
  • The lawsuit also claims the city only provided notice of the resolution to condemn to Thorton and not to “all persons having an interest in the Property.”
  • Section 14 and 15 of the lawsuit claim the city violated Ordinance No. 693-05. Section 14 says Ordinance 693-05, section three, states “written notice is to be served upon the owner thereof or his agent,” Later in section 15, the plaintiffs allege the city violated this by providing notice only to Thorton, “who is only one of the owners.”
  • In section 18, the lawsuit says the city never cited how the building was dangerous to public health and makes the case of the building being used for storage as its primary function.

The lawsuit is lengthy, with 48 sections outlined across dozens of pages. Much of it is similar to what was outlined above, or what has been discussed previously, but section 40 makes mention of a personal relationship seemingly influencing events.

In section 40, the plaintiffs state, “That J.R. Rogers was the former mayor of Walnut Ridge and had been challenged by the current mayor, Charles Snapp, in a previous election in which he defeated Charles Snapp.” No further mention of this subject is made in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed August 30 in Lawrence County Circuit Court. Thorton and Sifford are being represented by Jim Lyons, Lyons & Cone, P.L.C. in Jonesboro.

NEA Report will continue to follow this story and report on it going forward.

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Plans submitted by Rogers to the city in May, 2016, deemed insufficient.

 

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