BY MELANIE BUCK AND LEANN DILBECK –
It was standing room only during a lengthy Mena Planning Commission meeting at Mena’s City Hall last Thursday (February 2, 2017) in response to a controversial rezoning request of 26 acres that lies between the Hidden Valley Subdivision off Ransom Road and the Heavenly Acres trailer park off Hwy. 8 East. The seats of the council room were full of residents of the Hidden Valley neighborhood who mostly oppose the “what ifs” they feel could happen on the land in question if the current ordinance is not adhered to.
In a letter from residents dated January 23, 2017, requesting the city to declare their streets as dead end streets, they stated, “Recently we have heard rumors that an adjoining land owner would like to use our streets as their access. The adjoining landowners have filed a civil suit against one property owner, in Hidden Valley Estates, because they refused to let them drive across their property to get to the street.” The letter goes on to state that the adjoining landowners have two legal accesses to get to the property. “The adjoining property is zoned C3/C2. Also, there is a 15’ no build buffer zone and a requirement to build an 8’ solid wood fence (Ordinance 2085) between Hidden Valley Estates and the adjoining property owner land, so he cannot access our subdivision because he would need to cross over the no build buffer zone and drive through a wood fence. Also we have heard, the adjoining property owner is rezoning their property and want a new Ordinance issued and do away with Ordinance 2085. We, the property owners of Hidden Valley Estate, do not want Ordinance 2085 (Section 2 in particular) removed from the adjoining land.” They also said the original ordinance was issued “to protect our subdivision from any future zoning on the adjoining property owners land of 24 acres. It was for the ‘what ifs’ in the future.”
The new landowners that purchased the 26 acre parcel of land are Mena Police Chief Brandon Martin and Bridgett Martin. The Martins purchased the land in 2015. Shortly after purchasing, the Martins began building a residential home with plans to live there. However, once residents of Hidden Valley realized what was happening, they quickly organized a petition on the grounds of City Ordinance 2085, which was passed in 2004 when the then landowner had it rezoned to a C3 zone, and planned to create a mobile home park on the land.
During that time, residents of Hidden Valley attended meetings and ‘compromised’ a clause in Ordinance 2085, that states in Section 2, item (b) “A fifteen foot wide “no build” buffer zone will be established along the North property line with the Hidden Valley Estate Subdivision beginning at the Northwest corner running East 658 feet more or less; (c) “An eight foot high solid fence will be constructed along the North property line with the Hidden Valley Estate Subdivision beginning at the Northwest corner running East 658 feet more or less, upon owner of the above described property initiating any expansion or construction.”
That clause created a 15-foot no-build zone on the property, meaning no structures could be placed in that area. It also stated that upon creating a mobile home park, an 8-foot solid wooden fence would be built to create a barrier between the neighborhood and the mobile homes. The Martins were in attendance at the meeting and Brandon Martin stated that his intentions for the property are only to build a residence for he and his family. Martin also said that his real estate agent, John Titsworth, Jr., had not disclosed that the property had a no-build zone and fence mandate. A copy of a ‘sold’ MLS property listing dated November 17, 2016, shows under ‘Public Remarks’ the following: “Subject to city ordinance #2085 recorded in book 2005 page 715 dated 3/10/2005 Polk County Arkansas.”
Also during the meeting, Martin said building a fence is not the issue. “As far as the fence goes, we are not trying to get out of building a fence because the title company, we would make them pay for it for not finding it.” Debbie Pate, landowner in Hidden Valley and defendant in a civil suit regarding the property, responded to the statement with, “So you would sue the title company?” Martin said, “That’s what we pay title companies for, to find things like that.” Wayne Pate stated Martin was aware of the listing. “We never saw that listing,” said Martin. Debbie Pate responded by saying, “I cannot believe that he [Titsworth] would never mention the ordinance…”
When The Pulse reached out to Mr. Titsworth for comment, he stated, “He [Martin] knew he was buying a mobile home park but that was never his intentions. The guy just wanted to build a house for his family in the city limits. I don’t remembered if he signed something… all that [ordinance] was general public information. I could look back at my records. He probably signed something saying he understood that, we have to disclose that information.” Titsworth went on to say, “They [the City] issued him a permit and they knew he was going to build a house. It’s all a mute point now. In the grand scheme of things, none of it really matters now… it was an exercise in futility.”
Some residents expressed concern over why the City would issue the required building permit for new construction against a current ordinance. When one resident asked the planning commission why the City had granted a building permit, the commission only said that issuing building permits are the duty of the city and they don’t know why the City would have granted the permit. The Pulse reached out to Mayor George McKee for comment and he explained, “We’ve never in the past had a situation when issuing a building permit to have to look up an ordinance. The building official didn’t know to do that. He looks up building codes and fees, but not ordinances. The restriction was put in place by a city ordinance and he just didn’t know to look that up.”
Of major concern with Hidden Valley residents is that if a new ordinance passes that does not require the current 15-foot no-build zone, that Martin will be allowed to connect a driveway from his property to Oak View Avenue, which is considered a cul-de-sac, or dead-end street… or is it?
According to the Mena Planning Commission, Oak Grove Avenue is not legally considered either a dead end or a cul-de-sac, a shocking revelation to residents. The commission explained their decisions must be based on the legally filed plat filed at the Courthouse. Unfortunately for Hidden Valley residents, the plat does not describe Oak Grove Avenue as either one, so the commission’s decision on Martin’s driveway request must be based on that.
In a petition filed by Jimmy McMellon opposing the road and driveway connection, he stated that being the developer of Hidden Valley Estates subdivision, “when I developed this subdivision, it was my intention that all platted roads and streets therein be treated as dead end roads/streets.” Mr. McMellon also made that point in the public meeting, but as the commission again explained, they can’t base their decisions off of good intentions, they must be based on legal documents. Committee member Ron Tilley said that a road that has been in use for five years or more can not legally be claimed a dead end road.
Following the petitions, the pause in construction, and the rest of the matters set forth, Martin filed a lawsuit(s) to try and resolve the issues surrounding the property. Martin’s attorney, Orvin Foster, said, “The court agreed with me and entered an order that they [the streets in question] are public thoroughfares. It’s just like any other street, the citizens have the right to use it.”
City Prosecuting Attorney Jake Looney, who was sitting in for City Attorney Patrick McDaniel, suggested that if a new ordinance is passed, a clause could be included that if the property were to ever be rezoned back to a commercial property, the no-build buffer zone could be included. Residents expressed concern over this option, however, the Mena Planning Commission voted to rezone the property to an R2 residential property, without a no build buffer zone or fence clause included. The recommendation will be sent to the full City Council on February 14th. The Commission also voted to table the driveway issue until the rezone request is either passed or denied by City Council.