Archive for Saturday, July 24, 2004

Hearings set in Wal-Mart lawsuits

Court dates span from September to February in dispute over development

July 24, 2004

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Wal-Mart's lawsuits against City Hall have started to move forward.

Douglas County District Judge Michael Malone on Friday oversaw a conference with lawyers from both sides, scheduling hearings through next February and trying to streamline the mass of seven lawsuits into something more manageable.

"I'm going to try to get a handle on these things," Malone said, "because I don't have one yet."

The first hearing in September will be to decide how much, if any, of plaintiffs' attorney fees City Hall will have to pay from an early round of the case. Malone in February heard from city attorneys, asking him to reverse an earlier order that the city should pay the fees. He has not yet ruled on that request.

"I have the ruling done. I just haven't got it out," Malone told attorneys Friday. "If I rule for the city, then (the September hearing) is moot."

Representatives of 6Wak Land Investments LLC, the owner of the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive where Wal-Mart hasn't been allowed to build, say the city should pay them $91,000 in legal fees. The city has already paid more than $160,000 in its own attorneys' fees.

Wal-Mart and 6Wak, a partnership of Lawrence developers Bill Newsome and former City Commissioner Doug Compton, are both suing the city for its refusal to allow the proposed 132,000-square-foot store at Sixth and Wakarusa. The city argues that Wal-Mart is a department store prohibited by the site's zoning. Wal-Mart and 6Wak say it is an allowable variety store.

The lawsuits challenge the city's denial of building permits for the project, as well as its decision to levy special assessments against the property to pay for the construction of adjoining Congressional and Overland drives. City officials said Friday that the assessments were in limbo pending the legal challenge, forcing the city to pay $45,000 a year for interest payments out of taxpayer wallets until the matter is resolved.

Other hearings scheduled on Friday:

  • 2 p.m. Aug. 26, for the city's motion to dismiss the challenges to the special assessments.
  • 9 a.m. Oct. 8, for 6Wak's motion for summary judgment in its suit against the building permit denials.
  • 10 a.m. Feb. 10, for Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment in its suit against the building permit denials.

More than a year after the first case was filed, Malone said Friday he was ready to get the matter moving.

"I would like," he said, "to get as much of this set by the end of the year as possible."

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