UPDATED: Neighbors drop Project Cleveland lawsuit, UA to acquire property

A rendering of Project Cleveland, designed by Fayetteville architecture firm Modus Studio, shows plans for the 450-bedroom complex at North Hall Avenue and West Cleveland Street.

Image courtesy of Specialized Real Estate Group

A lawsuit filed by four residents challenging the city’s rezoning of land for Project Cleveland, a planned apartment complex at North Hall Avenue and West Cleveland Street, was dismissed Tuesday.

The order for voluntary dismissal of the lawsuit without prejudice was signed Tuesday afternoon by Washington County Circuit Judge Beth Storey Bryan.

The lawsuit was filed in July on behalf of Archie and Beverly Schaffer and Kenneth and Susan Gardner who live near the proposed development. The Schaffers and Gardners claimed City Council members acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” way when they voted 6-2 to approve Specialized Real Estate Group’s plans for the 450-bedroom complex.

A jury trial was scheduled for Dec. 11 and 12.

If built, Project Cleveland would replace the 60-unit Bayyari Properties-owned Sunshine Place apartment complex across from a five-story University of Arkansas dorm and a Leverett Elementary School parking lot.

The plaintiffs were part of a group of more than 200 people who live near the site that opposed the development through petitions to the council.

Seth Mims, of Specialized Real Estate Group, leads members of the Fayetteville City Council and area neighbors on a walking tour of the proposed Project Cleveland apartment complex in June.

Todd Gill

Specialized Real Estate wasn’t the only group eyeing the property.

A UA committee recently recommended the university purchase or condemn a portion of the land and turn the property into a parking lot. According to a recent UA Board of Trustees agenda, the university last month offered Bayyari Properties $2.25 million as a backup to Specialized’s $2.25 million contract on the property. UA officials, however, said this month they did not intend to wait for the outcome of the lawsuit before moving forward with the acquisition.

The plaintiffs said Tuesday that the university’s recent interest in the property was the deciding factor in ending their appeal of the council’s decision.

“We filed our appeal of the city’s decision in an effort to protect the quality of life in our historic neighborhood,” wrote the plaintiffs in a statement. “A private student dormitory and six-plus story parking deck does not belong on a residential street next door to a landmark elementary school in an established neighborhood.”

Despite their disapproval of the project, the plaintiffs said it would be “pointless” to continue with a legal appeal of the decision.

“In the face of the announcement that the University of Arkansas intends to acquire a large part of the property that would have comprised Project Cleveland, proceeding with our efforts would amount to a fool’s errand,” wrote the plaintiffs. “We don’t wish to burden the parties further with either the expense of an appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court of a jury trial.”

Calls to Specialized Real Estate Group and university officials were not immediately returned Tuesday evening.

Update: John Diamond, associate vice chancellor for university relations, said the UA is continuing with the necessary steps that would lead to a declaration of taking – that is taking something by eminent domain. The process, he said, includes a legislative review. “We’re in the process of moving forward with that,” said Diamond.