A local developer said the damages would be at least $25 million if the city of Little Rock is successful in blocking him from completing a low-income housing project in west Little Rock that’s now under construction.
RichSmith Holdings LLC and Ridge Construction LLC, both of North Little Rock, and The Peaks at Little Rock Ltd. filed a lawsuit last week against the city, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and the Little Rock Department of Planning & Development in U.S. District Court in Little Rock.
The plaintiffs want, among other things, a court order that prevents the city from suspending the Peaks’ building permits.
“I’ve been doing this 25 years, and it’s the first time it’s ever happened to me,” Keith Richardson, a member and co-founder of RichSmith Holdings and Ridge Construction, which is developing the project, told Whispers.
Richardson said the project received all the necessary approvals to build 72 units in the first phase of the project at the end of Dover Drive in Little Rock, near West 36th Street and Shackleford Road. The project, which he said was zoned for multifamily housing, has 96 units planned for the second phase.
The developer also secured $11.6 million in low-income tax credits for the first phase of the development and $14.8 million for the second phase. Both phases have deadlines they need to meet, Richardson said.
The building permits, which were issued around the first of October, listed the value of the first phase of the project at $3.24 million, which included three three-story 24-unit apartment buildings, a clubhouse and a mail kiosk.
As construction was underway, the city’s Planning & Development Department sent Richardson a letter on Nov. 10 that said it was suspending the building permits for the project.
The department said in the letter, which was attached as an exhibit to the suit, that it awarded the permits on the grounds that the project was going to be an apartment complex for people 55 and older. “Since your intention is to build a multi-family development without this restriction, we are suspending your building permits until this issue can be resolved,” the letter said.
The plaintiffs, however, said the project had authority to build the low-income housing at the site. “We even had three separate zoning verification letters from city planning before we actually started construction,” Richardson told Whispers.
But he said that the city received complaints from residents in the area, triggering the suspension of the permits. Richardson also said that the project’s neighbors told him that they didn’t want affordable, low-income housing residents in their neighborhood.
Richardson said the neighbors said that if it was one of Richardson’s higher-end apartment projects, they wouldn’t have a problem with it.
The plaintiffs are asking that the federal judge rule that the city’s and department’s decision to suspend the building permits “was arbitrary, capricious, truly irrational, and contrary to law, and, therefore,” should be reinstated without any condition or restrictions placed on them.
A spokesman for the city of Little Rock said the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Richardson said he hopes the case is resolved as quickly as possible. “There’s a huge demand for affordable housing in west Little Rock,” he said.