Suit settled

Nearly two years after filing a lawsuit against the City of Fayetteville and Fayetteville Public Utilities, St. Anthony Catholic Church is moving forward with plans to build a new Parish Life Center on its property at 1900 Huntsville Hwy.

Representatives of the church appeared before the Fayetteville Planning Commission Tuesday, requesting and gaining site plan and construction approval for the new center.

The decision to move forward with the center comes after the City of Fayetteville and FPU settled out of court with the church for a reported $124,000. That amount, to be divided equally between the two entities, will be paid by their insurance after each pays their $5,000 deductibles – the city and FPU share the same carrier, according to sources. Attorneys’ fees were also divided 50/50.

The church had filed the suit in U.S. District Court over water flow and fire protection issues in September of 2017, a year after it began submitting plans to the City of Fayetteville for the Parish Life Center and five months after the city denied the church’s request for a building permit to begin construction, citing the inadequacy of the hydrant serving the property for fire protection.

Just two months after that church’s request was denied, a fire would destroy a 12-unit apartment building and seriously injure two people in the neighboring Valley View complex.

While the fire, which occurred on June 25, 2017, brought concerns over fire flow and pressure issues to the forefront, FPU had just a month earlier begun construction of its $2.8 million waterline redundancy project, a project aimed at improving flow and providing a second feed to customers south of the Elk River along the Huntsville Highway. The project had been in the works for some time but didn’t gain a green light until June of 2016 when the city received a $5.05 million low-interest loan through the State Revolving Fund Loan Program for FPU water system improvements.

Ultimately, the waterline redundancy project was completed ahead of schedule, but that would be almost two years later. It was in August of 2018 when the city’s first blue-top hydrants – those representing very good fire flow – were put into service along the Huntsville Highway.

St. Anthony Catholic Church had sought $400,000 in damages for breach of contract in its lawsuit, stating that the city and FPU were obligated to provide adequate water service to the church’s existing and any future structures. It also claimed $2.3 million in damages were incurred by the church as a result of the city’s “inverse condemnation” of the church property.

When the church began submitting plans to the City of Fayetteville for the Parish Life Center, prior tests of the fire hydrant serving the property and Valley View Apartments showed sufficient water flow and pressure, the suit maintained, going on to note that subsequent tests, however, reflected a substantial drop in water flow and pressure.

“The City of Fayetteville and FPU repeatedly advised St. Anthony that the water supply issue is St. Anthony’s problem, not a problem caused by the actions of FPU or the City of Fayetteville,” the suit had stated. The church went on to contend that the decrease in water flow and pressure was caused by the actions of FPU and the city, primarily in allowing commercial development to continue without updates to the utility infrastructure serving the area.

A solution to the issue had been considered by the church – that being a water tank housed in a separate facility – but the cost, estimated at $400,000 plus architectural and engineering fees, would have been prohibitive.

The lawsuit went on to contend that inverse condemnation occurred as a result of the city’s “destruction of a plaintiff’s property rights” and interference “with a landowner’s beneficial use and enjoyment of the property.”

Another lawsuit related to the issue of fire flow and pressure is ongoing. It was filed by owners of the Valley View Apartments, Flanigan Investments, LLC, out of College Grove.

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