Don’t allow frivolous lawsuits to stymie Ky. job creation

Frank and Teresa Bridgewaters
Frank and Teresa Bridgewaters

Wal-Mart was coming to West Louisville and it was going to bring hundreds of jobs with it. That was until a small group of “preservationists” used frivolous challenges to kill the project through delay.

The only thing successfully preserved on the empty lot was the continued economic deprivation of the area.

Unfortunately, frivolous delay-to-kill appeals in land-use cases are an all-too-common occurrence in our state. They stunt, or even stop, economic growth and prevent revitalization of communities. It’s time to put a stop to frivolous appeals in land-use cases.

House Bill 72, sponsored by Louisville Rep. Jerry Miller, would require the posting of an appeal bond by the losing party, if the winning party files a motion within 30 days’ notice of an appeal of a circuit court decision in a land-use case.

As a husband-and-wife team which operates a small commercial construction and real estate business, we know the consequences of frivolous appeals and their impact on a community. We saw it firsthand in our pursuit of this project that would have benefited an area in dire need of revitalization, jobs and the convenience of affordable goods and services.

Several years ago, we took on an important task of transforming the site of the old Philip Morris plant at 18th and Broadway in the inner-city community of West Louisville. We stepped up to the plate to redevelop this site as a retail workforce center. One of us is a product of West Louisville and our business has always been located in West Louisville. It was more than just business, it was personal. We sought a game-changer for the deteriorating face of the West Broadway corridor.

We began talks with Walmart in October 2011, and executed a purchase agreement in August 2013. Thousands from the community voiced support for the project. However, a small group pursued frivolous challenges. Delay was their tactic at every step.

Walmart and our company were named in a lawsuit filed by Louisville attorney Steve Porter regarding the composition of the planning and zoning commission that our company and Walmart had no part in.

Porter has done this with other developments, and each time he has been unsuccessful. The courts subsequently upheld the planning and zoning decisions in every venue, including the Court of Appeals.

The store should have opened in 2015 or even 2014. However, because of the appeals, Walmart could not clear the title to the property and was unable to complete the purchase in a reasonable time frame. The West Louisville community was devastated.

Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell called the suits “appalling behavior” perpetrated “by a few people who had no interest whatsoever in West Louisville.”

The opening of the Walmart Superstore would have resulted in the reemergence of sustainable development with even more economic opportunities. It would have provided 300 permanent retail jobs for local residents. The construction phase would have resulted in over 200 additional jobs, not to mention the jobs created by development of the surrounding area.

Unfortunately, since that time West Louisville has seen several grocery closures and is now a veritable food desert. Our community’s residents must travel many miles for simple goods and services.

Under HB 72, a circuit judge would conduct a hearing and issue a determination on whether the case is presumptively frivolous or not. The judge would then set a bond amount, though there is no minimum amount. Legitimate cases would proceed, but those simply working to delay would have to think twice.

The bill passed the Kentucky House in bipartisan fashion, and we ask the Senate to do the same.

Frank and Teresa Bridgewaters own a commercial construction and real estate company in West Louisville.