Ott sues city in repair dispute

Tuesday, December 21, 2021
A Eureka Springs public works vehicle crashed into a gas meter and a home owned by city council member Bill Ott on May 18. No injuries were reported in the accident, which led to the evacuation of of the immediate area. Residents were allowed to return after a few hours. Ott is suing the city over repairs he made to his home.

Eureka Springs City Council member Bill Ott filed a lawsuit against the city last month.

The suit, filed Nov. 4 in Carroll County Circuit Court, stems from Ott’s efforts to repair damage to his home on Pine Street. The damage occurred in May, when a city truck “jumped out of gear” and ran into Ott’s porch, the complaint says.

Because his home is located in the historic district, Ott needed approval from the city’s Historic District Commission before proceeding with repairs. According to the complaint filed on Ott’s behalf by local attorney Wade Williams, Ott submitted an application to repair and replace the front porch of his residence to the HDC in late June. The application included a request to extend the porch by approximately two feet and to move the steps from the sidewalk from the center of the porch to the west end, the complaint says.

Bill Ott

On July 7, the HDC approved Ott’s application and a certificate of appropriateness was issued, the complaint says. However, after the work was completed, Ott was served a notice of code violation by the city, the complaint says. The notice says the work was unapproved and that materials used in the work also were not approved.

Ott then filed a second application with the HDC, seeking approval of the completed work, according to the complaint. That application was denied on Oct. 6, the complaint says, with no reason for the denial being provided. Before the denial, HDC commissioners were presented with a memorandum from the city’s historic preservation officer, who recommended approval of the application.

The lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction that would prevent the city from denying approval for the work on Ott’s home or holding Ott liable for any alleged violation, or annul the Oct. 6 denial of Ott’s application and declare it approved.

City attorney Tim Weaver filed a motion on Dec. 1, asking the court to dismiss Ott’s complaint.

In a brief in support of that motion, Weaver writes that Ott failed to file an appeal of the HDC’s Oct. 6 decision to deny his application.

“Mr. Ott instead filed suit, missing appropriate deadlines, and otherwise, not complying with the procedure which the Arkansas Supreme Court describes as ‘mandatory and jurisdictional,’ ” Weaver writes.

Weaver’s motion for dismissal includes an answer to Ott’s complaint. Weaver writes that the scope of the work performed on Ott’s residence was not covered in his initial application.

Eureka Springs council member Harry Meyer addressed the lawsuit at the council’s meeting on Monday, Dec. 13, during closing comments. Meyer said Eureka Springs relies heavily on citizen volunteers and city commissions are made up of unpaid people “who take the time out of their personal lives to serve the community.”

“These volunteers do not go unpunished,” Meyer said. “Any mistake made by a commission is immediately pointed out as a possible subterfuge that there is some secret motive. Lawsuits are directed at these volunteers.”

Meyer said the HDC has a “thick rulebook that guides them in preserving … the city’s qualification as a historic town.”

Benefits that come from the historic classification include grant opportunities, Meyer said, which other cities are unable to get.

“Tourists come to our historic town because of the many unique homes and buildings,” Meyer said. “Anyone who has made their living here in the tourism-related business should know how important our historic district is. All who have lived and worked here who own a historic home should know they have a responsibility to preserve that history.”

Meyer continued, “All of us that are elected to serve the citizens of this city should know that suing the city and its volunteer commissioners is not in the best interest of their constituents. Mr. Ott, will you please resign from your position on the council?”

Council member Melissa Greene said she echoed Meyer’s sentiment but would not be “quite so dramatic.”

Greene said she was on the HDC for 14 years.

“When we take a house from contributing, you may think, ‘Oh, so what? It looks better this way,’ ” Greene said. “You’re taking something out of our stable and it’s slowly been whittling down.”

Greene said she hopes the preservation society doesn’t visit Eureka Springs for another survey, because “we might be in very sad shape.”

“It hurts when stuff is done. It hurts when commissioners and city council people and the mayor, when we’re attacked,” Greene said. “What do we make? Two thousand dollars a year? It’s not always worth that kind of money to put up with some of the abuse we put up with.”

“You’re attacking [Ott] now,” interjected council member Terry McClung.

“No, I’m not,” Greene said.

“I don’t even know what the hell’s going on, but this sounds pretty sour to me,” McClung said.

“I don’t either,” said council member Autumn Slane.

“We’re being sued,” Greene said.

“He’s suing the city,” Meyer said.

When asked for his closing comment, Ott said HDC rules and regulations provide provisions for appeals.

“The citizens of this town can take advantage of that if they feel they need to, so I would hope that those people who are most knowledgeable of the HDC would look at that, understand what an appeal is and understand that’s exactly what it is,” Ott said.

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