Lawyers representing a limited liability company that owns a portion of Arrowhead Mall say a recent decision by the Muskogee Urban Renewal Authority harms "the marketability of our client's property."
Commissioners in November denied a request to amend an urban renewal plan that would have allowed the now-shuttered Dillard's to be converted from retail to office space. The request was made by a Kansas City-based company competing for an opportunity to accommodate the proposed relocation of the VA Regional Office.
The request for a change of use and proposed rehabilitation, commissioners found, failed to meet standards and obligations as required by the urban renewal plan as amended in 1984 to provide for the construction of Arrowhead Mall. The plan's ultimate goal was to clear the area of substandard structures and create new economic opportunities.
Mary P. Huckabee, a lawyer with Tulsa-based Conner & Winters, states in a letter dated Dec. 20 the "plan has terminated by its own terms" and is no longer enforceable. She cites a section in the plan that provides "all regulations restricting land use ... shall extend until the year 2010, and so long thereafter as said plan is necessary for the use of the city ... as determined by" Muskogee City Council.
"Because the City Council did not make a determination to renew the plan, the Urban Renewal Plan expired as of the year 2010," Huckabee states in her letter to City Attorney Roy Tucker. "As further evidence that the Urban Renewal Plan is no longer necessary and has expired, with a single exception ..., we understand no action has been taken under the Urban Renewal Plan in the nearly ten years since it expired."
Huckabee cites the Nov. 20 decision by the Muskogee Urban Renewal Authority — one that "amplified" the harm to her client — as the "single exception" to the lack of any action taken pursuant to the 1984 plan. She requests city councilors adopt a resolution acknowledging the plan's expiration to clear up any "ambiguity in the chain of title and confusion regarding the continued effect" of the plan due to the lack of any recorded instrument providing notice of that in the land records.
Tucker, who briefed city councilors about potential litigation initiated by the limited liability company, said he disagrees with the assessment that the plan expired in 2010. Tucker said he interprets the phrase "as determined by the City Council" to mean an affirmative act would have to be taken to void the provision for an indefinite period of time described in the clause "so long thereafter as said plan is necessary."
Urban renewal commissioners took action related to the 1984 plan in 2012, when they approved the use of part of the property at Arrowhead Mall for construction by a private developer of an office building occupied now by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. The developer of that property was required to submit a request and navigate a similar procedure before that project was found to meet the three key elements and ultimate goals of the 1984 plan.
Tucker, who was directed on Monday to further research the issues and prepare a report to be presented to city councilors, said a judge may have to decide whether the plan has expired. He described conversations with lawyers representing Arrowhead Mall LLC as "cordial" and "candid."
"We want the mall to succeed — we certainly don't want to hinder the mall," Tucker said. "We don't want it to become a vacant building and fall into disrepair — that's not in anyone's interest."
Tucker said a new retail consultant with whom the city contracted was asked "to help market the mall and get some retail in there."