Pfeifer v. City of Little Rock
Pfeifer v. City of Little Rock was a lawsuit filed in 1999 by Eugene Pfeifer III that, had it been successful, would have upended all the developing plans for the presidential library of President Bill Clinton. The suit stemmed from a dispute and the resulting failed negotiations surrounding the effort to plan and eventually construct a presidential library in Little Rock (Pulaski County) following Clinton’s election in 1992.
Not long after Clinton’s election to the presidency, a group of his supporters established the Clinton Presidential Library Study Commission and began to look for a suitable place in Arkansas to establish the former Arkansas governor’s presidential library. The creation of the commission set in motion a lengthy process that had lawyers battling over local zoning ordinances, eminent domain, and the public good.
The Library Study Commission developed a list of almost thirty Little Rock and North Little Rock (Pulaski County) locations that might serve as the library site. That original list was whittled down considerably when a decision was made that the library would be located along the riverfront in downtown Little Rock, east of Interstate 30. In addition, with that decision pending, the city started to look at the possibility of using the adjacent area for the development of a park that would be used in conjunction with the Clinton Library and Presidential Center.
When the final decision was made, the city issued $10.5 million in bonds to purchase the designated land and then began the preparations necessary to make it suitable for the construction of the library. The city began acquiring land, beginning eminent domain proceedings in late 1998.
As the eminent domain–based purchases got under way, Pfeifer filed suit in Pulaski County Chancery Court seeking to stop the action. Pfeifer, whose interest stemmed from the fact that he owned just under three acres of the land that was to be condemned, argued that the planned park revenue bonds that were to be issued to purchase the land could not be used for that purpose because the land had not been zoned as parkland by the City of Little Rock.
The issue of land use—what it was zoned for, what it was going to be used for, and who had the authority to make those determinations—was at the heart of the lawsuit. Pfeifer acknowledged that the $400,000 that was deposited with the court pending the outcome of the case was the fair market value of the property. His issue was with the professed reason that the city wanted the property in the first place and whether it was a legitimate use of that property as it was zoned.
The case was, to the outside observer, a lawyer’s delight. The proceeding moved from court to court and there were filings, cross filings, and requests for eminent domain actions—a tedious type of legal proceeding that undergirds many public actions. After reviewing the issues of, first, the necessity of taking all of Pfeifer’s property and then the matter of the legislative grant to Little Rock to do so, on November 1, 2001, the Arkansas Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in which it upheld the City of Little Rock’s taking of the land as a proper and legal application of the principle of eminent domain.
With the legal obstacles removed, the construction of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum commenced on December 5, 2001, and the library officially opened on November 18, 2004.
For additional information:
“Clinton Presidential Center.” Clinton Foundation. https://www.clintonfoundation.org/clinton-presidential-center/ (accessed April 12, 2023).
Eugene M. Pfeifer, III; Citizens Fidelity Insurance Company; and Pulaski County, Arkansas v. City of Little Rock. 57 S.W.3d 714 (2001); 346 Ark. 449.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. https://www.clintonlibrary.gov/ (accessed April 12, 2023).
William H. Pruden
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