City, mall owner debate responsibility for Griffith Street repairs

Rough Road: The City of El Dorado recently placed a "Private Drive" sign on Griffith Street to indicate to residents that the city does not own the street, which provides access from North West Avenue to North Jefferson Avenue.
Rough Road: The City of El Dorado recently placed a "Private Drive" sign on Griffith Street to indicate to residents that the city does not own the street, which provides access from North West Avenue to North Jefferson Avenue.

If you've driven down Griffith Street recently — the small road north of the Mellor Park Mall that connects North West Avenue with North Jefferson

Avenue — you know it's in rough shape. Potholes dot the street's surface, particularly as drivers near the Griffith/North West intersection.

The road's condition has prompted numerous complaints from residents who don't appreciate having to navigate the uneven road surface as they approach a busy intersection. But while many assume the road is the City of El Dorado's responsibility, the facts are more complicated than that.

According to the current and former city officials, the street doesn't belong to El Dorado — you might have noticed the "Private Drive" sign the city put up last month. The street is owned by Dr. Surendra Agarwal and his son Sajal, officials say, who own Mellor Park Mall through the holding companies Multi-State and Tri-State.

In 1984, the city and the previous mall owners, Doyle and Josephine Rogers, reached a license agreement to extend Griffith Street to Jefferson Avenue "to relieve the heavy traffic across the mall parking lot." But the land has never been deeded to the city, officials say.

"It's not city property," Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer said. "It's something that, especially here lately, has been a situation that we get a lot of calls on, a lot of complaints about. There's nothing we can do."

She said city officials have not been able to find records or documents showing that the city ever accepted that section of Griffith. Since the property is listed as private property, the city cannot maintain it, the mayor said.

Former El Dorado Mayor Mike Dumas said that there has been tension between the Mellor Park Mall owners and the city for decades about the maintenance of the street.

"Dr. Agarwal is an absentee owner; he doesn't have a lot of interest in El Dorado and the community," he said. "He has always felt the city did not do enough for what he felt he was doing for the community, bringing retail business to El Dorado."

Dumas said that under his predecessor, Larry Combs, his own administration and subsequent mayors, the city has assumed the responsibility of maintaining the street surface, but the street has never been dedicated to the city and there has been "friction" about drainage infrastructure underneath the street.

"Because taxpayer money has been spent in the past, the city should maintain the street; we have always done that," he said.

A lawsuit and a proposal

As Multi-State Holdings, the Agarwals filed a lawsuit against the City of El Dorado in May of 2019. According to the lawsuit, the city has an "apparent, implied easement traversing Mellor Park's property for the purpose of public storm water drainage and should therefore be responsible for and undertake immediately the repair and maintenance of the storm drainage pipe."

City Attorney Henry Kinslow filed an answer in June on behalf of the city denying that El Dorado has any apparent, implied easement.

"The problem has been developing for decades, and yet the [Multi-State Holdings] has allowed said problem to fester until it has created a crisis and is demanding the taxpayers of El Dorado to fix same," the response reads.

Kinslow said that the city is willing to repair the street surface if the Agarwals pay for the drainage work underneath the street. The El Dorado City Council recently authorized Smith-Creer and Kinslow to take a proposal to Multi-State and Tri-State that would call for the city and property owners to team up to repair that section of Griffith.

Per the proposal, the property owners would build a sub-base for the street and replace a storm water drainage pipe that extends east from a drop inlet, just west of Hobby Lobby.

After the work has been completed and the city conducts and approves an inspection, the property owners would turn over the right-of-way — 25 feet in both directions from the center line of the street — to the city.

The city would then repair and overlay the street and accept it into its street inventory for maintenance.

"Will we own it? We accept it? Will we own it at that point?" Councilmember Billy Blann asked during a regular council meeting on Jan. 9.

Blann also inquired about the "subterranean part" of the street.

"That drain down there is about 6 or 8 foot … you can walk through it. It's huge. Would we accept that also at that point? I'm not feeling comfortable accepting that drain," he said.

"Well, that would be part of the proposal, that we would accept that sub-surface drainage after it's been replaced," said Robert Edmonds, director of public works. "That's replacing the drainage system under the existing private drive."

"It would be replaced the right way before we would accept it," added Councilmember Michael Rice.

Costs for milling the street and adding another French drain are estimated at $50,000 for the city, he said.

Councilmember Paul Choate asked if the proposal, if accepted, would mean that the property owners would relinquish ownership of the infrastructure or a permanent easement to the city.

"That's the same thing," Kinslow said.

Added Smith-Creer, "Again, that's something we definitely need in place. We don't want people to think that we, as a city, are not handling our responsibility."

Kinslow noted the city is waiting to hear back from the Agarwals on its response and proposal. Multiple phone calls to the management office responsible for Mellor Park Mall to contact the Agarwals were not returned by press time.

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