Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hotel at 12th and University faces mayor's opposition

Posted By on Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 11:28 AM

click to enlarge DEVELOPMENT TARGET: Motel proposed for the left portion of this lot reportedly will be opposed by Mayor Stodola. A gas station has been approved on the right side. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • DEVELOPMENT TARGET: Motel proposed for the left portion of this lot reportedly will be opposed by Mayor Stodola. A gas station has been approved on the right side.

An extended stay motel proposed for property adjacent to the 20-pump Murphy Oil gas station and store just approved at 12th and University may face a tougher fight.

Pam Powell, who lives in a home in University Park overlooking the gas station and proposed motel site, said she'd received a letter from Mayor Mark Stodola saying he opposed the extended stay motel and that he would veto it "if necessary.

The letter went to all who signed up to speak last week against the gas station proposal.  A mayoral veto would present a serious complication. It takes eight votes of the 10-vote City Board to override a mayoral veto.

In the letter, Stodola explains his support for the gas station. He said he was won over by a change to prevent 24-hour operation (it will be closed from midnight to 5 a.m.) and the fact that existing zoning allowed for worse uses. He also cited distance of University Park homes from the site, though other neighborhoods raised broader development issues.

"I truly believe this development is far enough away so as not to have a detrimental impact on the neighborhood," Stodola's letter said.

Here's the mayor's letter.
Stodola is deservedly feeling heat from breaking a 5-5 tie to approve the gas station despite opposition from mutliple neighborhoods, its damaging impact on higher quality development along University Avenue and the lack of need for another gas station in a neighborhood with plenty of them, including a Shell store directly across the street.

The Planning Commission, appointed by Stodola, approved both the gas station and the hotel (by BH University Development LLC) by separate 9-1 votes, despite opposition from the city planning staff and neighbors and the League of Women Voters. Powell objects to a hotel that would rise to the level of neighboring houses on the hill and cites police and other problems at other extended stay motels. This link contains minutes of a Planning Commission discussion of the hotel. Stodola said it was not unusual for the Planning Commission, staff and public to disagree on issues.

The gas station will take up roughly half of about four acres once owned by Brandon Furniture (and zoned industrial when the then-owner sought to qualify for a low-cost tax-free industrial development bond issue to build the store). The hotel is a separate proposal by different developers for the rest of the property north of the gas station.

The hotel proposal is currently scheduled for the Sept. 16 City Board agenda. But dates sometimes change when votes are in doubt.

The hotel would present an opportunity for five city directors to make up for the gas station vote to some degree. They were Stacy Hurst, Lance Hines, Gene Fortson, Brad Cazort and Dean Kumpuris. To the extent they've said anything about approving the gas station, they've defended the location as suitable for a commercial use and said it's 300 feet from the nearest homes. Powell and others have noted that these arguments don't amount to an endorsement of the project as a plus for the city. They've also said the store will only take business from existing operators, not create additional revenue.

Also: Powell told me today that she'd talked with Stacy Hurst after the vote. She said Hurst, a Republican candidate for state representative, had asked her if she was recording their conversation. Powell said she replied she'd have no idea how to record a conversation. She said Hurst then emphasized it would be illegal to record her. In fact, it would not. Arkansas is what is known as a "one-party consent" state. As long as one party is aware of the taping of a telephone conversation, it is legal.

Ark. Code Ann. § 5-80-120(a) (a) says:

It is lawful to record a communication if one is a party to the communication or has received the prior consent of a party to the communication.

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