Bell Ventures LLC seeks declaratory judgment against Town of Hayneville

Published 5:32 pm Thursday, February 11, 2016

Bell Ventures LLC, the company which purchased the Hayneville Plaza from the Lowndes County Commission for $125,000, is seeking a declaratory judgment in Lowndes County Circuit Court against the town of Hayneville for allegedly refusing to issue a building permit, threatening the use of eminent domain to take the building and threatening to use the power of arrest.

The action by Bell Ventures LLC was made public through the reading of a letter to County Commission Chairman Robert Harris from Joe E. Bell Jr., which was read aloud by County Commission Administrator Jackie Thomas at the Monday, Feb. 8 commission meeting.

County Commissioner Carnell McAlpine requested that Thomas read the letter under “Commission Concern.”

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The civil action filed by Bell Ventures LLC is entitled “Request for speeding hearing as allowed by Rule 57 of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure.”

Bell Ventures LLC purchased the building from the county, which floated a $3.5 million bond issue to purchase the building from Karl Bell for $3.2 million. The building was purchased by the county for use by the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission (SCABC) in connection with a federal grant and privately funded broadband project.

County Commissioner Dickson Farrior said of the sale of the Hayneville Plaza in November, “The building has been empty for two years. We couldn’t get insurance on it. It’s a liability.”

Joe Bell also Jr. said in November that tearing down the building was the only option. And when asked if he would sell the building, he said, “Our specific goal is to bring in an Ace Hardware Store… We want to stay focused on our plan.” He confirmed at that time the plan is to located the new store where the Hayneville Plaza now stands.

According to the letter from Bell, read at Monday’s commission meeting, “On Dec. 2, 2015, we received a cease and desist letter from the town of Hayneville. By the town’s interpretation, we are in violation of its zoning ordinance if we do anything on the site without a building permit.”

The letter continues, “Upon our request for a building permit, the town refused to provide one and threatened to use eminent domain to take the building to allow another company to operate a call center.”

The letter further states, “The town has also threatened to exercise power of arrest. The police chief under the mayor’s direction, told our representatives to stay away from the site or face being placed in jail.”

It further states, “Given the significance of these events, we filed for a declaratory judgment in the circuit court of Lowndes County against the town. We are waiting on a hearing date and requested a speedy hearing.”

The letter on Bell Ventures LLC letterhead and signed by Joe Bell Jr. concluded, “We are disappointed in the town’s actions and lack of support. However, we are not derailed from our focus and commitment to economic growth for the community. We can provide further updates pending the hearing.”

According t a copy of court documents, which show the civil action was electronically filed on Jan. 20, Bell Ventures LLC is represented by attorney Jerry L. Thornton of Hayneville.

According to a copy of a letter from Hayneville Mayor David Daniel to Mr. Joe Bell/Bell Ventures dated Dec. 2, which is included as an exhibit in Bell Venture’s civil action, “…the town of Hayneville would like for the Hayneville Plaza Building to remain in its current state for the purpose of economic development. The town’s current plans for the building is to house 50 jobs that would greatly benefit the citizens of Hayneville and Lowndes County.”

The letter states, “The town had offered t purchase the building for $300,000 from the Lowndes County Commission, but to no avail. The town of Hayneville remains committed to the welfare and good quality of life of the general public.”

That letter further states, “Because of our commitment to the general public and the continued growth of our town, we must demand that you immediately cease and desist any alteration to the Hayneville Plaza Building. You are ordered to refrain from removing any article from inside or outside of the building. All fixtures, air conditioners and materials must remain in tact.”

The letter concludes, “For your information, the town of Hayneville posses eminent domain authority to acquire the property needed for this project, however, it is our goal to negotiate amicable agreements for the property.”

When asked if the Hayneville police chief had been instructed to arrest Bell Ventures personnel if they did not stay away from the site, Hayneville Mayor David Daniel responded, “I was hoping they wouldn’t go to that site. No. I didn’t. That’s the last thing in the world we want to do is arrest Mr. Bell, young Bell or order Bell.”

When asked if a building permit has been denied, Daniel said, “right.”

He said, “What we’ve done. We’re trying to use eminent domain because we would like to see that building be used to employ a lager number of people.”

He said, “I was hoping it would not come down to him (Bell) being arrested… That is my hope. We don’t want him taking everything out of that building before this process has a chance to run its course.”

He said, “If they would just not bother it. We won’t have to do anything.”

It is alleged in the civil action seeking a declaratory judgment against the town of Hayneville, “The town has steadfastly refuse to allow the plaintiff to even fill out the building permit that the town erroneously says it required by the new zoning ordinance, which was allegedly passed and enacted by the town on May 11, 2015.”

It further alleges, “In order to unlawfully maintain dominion and control of the subject property, the town has threatened to exercise the power of arrest set out in the 2015 zoning ordinance, if the plaintiff works on the Plaza. The mayor and police chief have told people not to go to the Plaza and to stay away from this property or face being placed in jail.”

And it alleges, “And further the town has threatened to use its eminent domain authority to take the building from the plaintiff to allow a company or other entity to use the Plaza to operate a call center.”

The civil actions seeks a declaratory judgment that the “town’s 2015 zoning ordinance does not cover demolition of buildings and or other structures located within the town because regulation of demolition is not authorized by the Enabling Act…”

It seeks, “That the plaintiff and its successors and assigns have the free and unimpeded right to demolish the subject building and take the demolished building parts away from the site free from any interference by the town of Hayneville, its agents, servants, employees, council persons, and/or its mayor and other officials in any shape, form, or fashion of any kind whatsoever.”

The civil action also seeks that the court makes an award of costs and that the court makes an award of money damages against the town for “usurping its police power in this matter under the authority of Gulf Shores v. Lamar Advertising of Mobile, Inc…”