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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Appeal of City Council denial of approval for apartments next to Fayetteville National Cemetery dropped by auction-barn owner

NWAOnline.com

Landowner Drops Zoning Lawsuit

By Skip Descant

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

FAYETTEVILLE — An effort to build college student apartments on the site of the former Washington County Livestock Auction is likely further away than ever.

Billy Joe Bartholomew, the barn’s owner, said the prospect of lengthy litigation to acquire city permission to build on the site prompted Campus Crest, an apartment development company, to lose interest in the project.

“If I could have gotten them down to maybe six months, then maybe they would have stayed interested,” Bartholomew said Monday.

Bartholomew filed a motion to dismiss his lawsuit against the city Monday.

The former livestock barn plodded its way through a lengthy and controversial rezoning process, as neighbors and veterans groups came out against North Carolina-based Campus Crest’s plans to build some 200 apartments on the 9-acre site.

The veterans opposed development of student-focused apartments just across Government Street from the Fayetteville National Cemetery, saying the use was incompatible with the hallowed ground reserved for honoring those who served the nation in the military.

The Fayetteville City Council denied Bartholomew’s request to rezone the property from heavy commercial/light industrial to downtown general, a zoning that would have cleared the way for the Campus Crest project. Bartholomew responded by appealing the city’s decision in Washington County Circuit Court, a process that may have dragged out for months, if not beyond a year.

“If you don’t know how long it will take, it’s hard to ask people to wait that long,” Bartholomew said.

For now, Bartholomew isn’t sure what the future holds for the sale barn, which closed its doors in June after more than 70 years in operation. He does not currently have a buyer.

“I’m just going to wait and see what happens,” Bartholomew said.

Campus Crest officials could not be reached Monday afternoon for comment.

That’s terrific,” veteran Jim Buckner said when he learned Bartholomew had dropped the legal challenge. “I think it’s good news for the veterans. It really does clear some things up for us.”

Buckner is a former military officer and is senior vice-commander for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Arkansas Division.

Although the Regional National Cemetery Improvement Corp. that formally oversees operation of the cemetery has said it wants to expand in another direction, Buckner said Monday he still wants to see the Bartholomews’ property used to expand the cemetery.

Bucker, who helped lead opposition to the student apartments, said he hopes Congress will authorize and fund the purchase of the former auction site through the Department of Veterans Affairs, or that local veterans can somehow raise enough money to buy it.

Ron Wood contributed to this report.

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