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Lonoke City Council hears from property owners during meeting

In a meeting lasting more than two hours Monday night, the Lonoke City Council heard arguments from two property owners whose properties have come under scrutiny by the council for various city code violations.

One property owner — former Lonoke Mayor Thomas Privett, who owns Privett Place Apartments — was able to get his property removed from the condemned properties watch list.

Privett first appeared before the council at its meeting in March after his property was placed on the list in February.

While commending the council for being instrumental in getting rid of “eyesores” throughout the town, Privett argued that his property was on the mend, and that having it on the watch list was causing him to lose tenants.

“In the last two months, I’ve had four vacancies in apartments that’s usually full and with a waiting list,” he said.

Noting that improvements had been made to the property, but that people are not comfortable renting apartments that could be condemned, Privett said, “You can’t stop the wound, but you can stop the bleeding, and that’s what I’m asking you to do.”

After some discussion, Alderman Pat Howell made a motion to remove the property from the watch list; the council approved.

Jay Lucas, owner of what used to be Mallard Point Golf Course, also approached the council, but with less favorable results.

The property has been a bone of contention for the council for some time now because of Lucas’ failure to keep the property, which encompasses many acres of land, mowed.

The former golf course also borders Mallard Point Estates, and council members said property owners from that subdivision have complained about the property.

Lucas told the council that he is mowing what he can, and that his lawn mower is broken.

He also requested a waiver for part of the land, which he says is a farm where he grows wheat and hay to bale. Because that part of the property is a farm, he said, it would be exempt from the city’s regulation that limits the height of vegetation growth to eight inches.

After hearing arguments from Lucas, city council members gathered around a zoning map and discussed the issue amongst themselves for a period of about 20 minutes. During the discussion, Mayor McGee, City Attorney Camille Bennett and part of the council members moved to a separate room to look up an ordinance before regrouping to discuss the issue further.

Alderman Janie Derning said the property owners deserve better from Lucas.

“When they bought it, it was manicured, nice and they want it to stay that way, ” she said. Derning also noted that even though the property is in her district, she has not received any complaints about it.

Alderman Wendell Walker said that he has received several complaints. Walker also brought it to the council’s attention that Lucas sold many of the neighboring residents their lots in the first place, and therefore has a responsibility to keep his nearby property maintained.

The council ultimately voted to uphold the city’s ordinance requiring vegetation growth to be kept under eight inches.

“If you got 110 acres, you’ve got to mow 110 acres,” Howell said.

In other business, the council approved the first quarter budget numbers. The city will also write off a number of past-due balances owed by current and former residents.

Derning noted that some of the balances on the list were owed by people who are deceased.

The council’s next regular meeting will be June 10 at 6 p.m. in the courtroom at City Hall.

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