Jennifer Carman resigns from Historic District Commission | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Jennifer Carman resigns from Historic District Commission

Posted By on Thu, Apr 14, 2016 at 9:58 AM

BATTLEGROUND: Shaded area is the MacArthur Park Historic District, where an independent commission decides on development plans.
  • BATTLEGROUND: Shaded area is the MacArthur Park Historic District, where an independent commission decides on development plans.
Jennifer Carman, who's been at the center of recent stories about an apartment project before the Little Rock Historic District Commission, sent notice to city officials yesterday that she was resigning from the commission, which controls development in the historic neighborhood around MacArthur Park.

Carman didn't respond to my request for a comment last night,  but she posted news of her resignation on Facebook today. She'll keep speaking up, she said.

Carman has been critical of a pending item before the Commission, the $8 million, 50-unit Scott Street Apartments between Ninth and Tenth, across the street from property Carman owns. She's said the three-story project is too big for the half block, which has been undeveloped for a half-century. Moses Tucker Real Estate, which is the developer, has made several changes in plans to satisfy objections. Some architects in the community who'd originally objected have come around, but strong resistance remains on the Commission.

Carman and another commissioner recused from the matter because of owning property within 150 feet of the project. But Carman continued to criticize the project publicly and in an e-mail to members of the Commission. City Attorney Tom Carpenter has said the city's ethics rules prevent her from talking with other commissioners about the project. She insisted this didn't amount to participating in the discussion. Arkansas court cases brought under the Freedom of Information, however, have said that e-mails among board members amount to meetings of public bodies and violate the FOI law.

Carpenter's questions about Carman's continued participation in the debate — she has said she was acting as a "citizen" not a commissioner — and about the commission's interpretation of its ground for evaluating the project, led to a delay of the matter before the commission.

Carpenter said today it was not immediately clear that Carman's departure from the commission clears the way for a vote next month. "The FOI issue may impact any vote and I have to go back and read those cases," he said "If it does not, then perhaps so."

There are other complications. Carpenter has said the commission should consider the district as a whole in evaluating the suitability of the project, not just the immediate vicinity. He's indicated the project meets standards set out in law. A decision to deny the project thus could be deemed arbitrary and Carpenter has signaled he might not be able to represent commissioners if they act outside the guidance of the statute that created the commission. That possibility has caused some commissioners to consider not voting. As it stands now, only five commissioners are available to vote. Non-participation of two would leave the commission short of the four votes necessary for approval of an item. That, in itself, could be cause for a court appeal on arbitrariness.

In short: More to come. This is what Carman said on Facebook:

Yesterday afternoon I tendered my resignation from my role as the Quapaw Quarter Association’s commissioner for the MacArthur Park Historic District Commission. This was not a decision I made lightly, but I have acted with the belief that this is ultimately for the greater good of all parties involved. I regret the circumstances that have unfolded this week, and I hope that any reasonable person will understand that I only took action to share my own "citizen" comment after becoming aware of the city attorney's opinion explicitly confirmed during the March 14th pre-agenda meeting that households of recused commissioners indeed had a voice. If I had any idea that this opinion would later change, or that I would be publicly accused of an ethics violation by participating, I never would have prepared a statement for my own household.

Unfortunately, this week's misunderstanding and the resulting public accusation of an ethics violation that has ensued is the sort of risk that I, as an independent business owner, simply cannot afford to take. My intent has always been, and will remain to be, to act with honor and integrity in all professional and personal endeavors. As an independent appraiser and advisor, my entire livelihood relies on the sanctity of my good name and on the public's trust of my impeccable ethics. I have dedicated my career to establishing myself as an impartial, honest, and unbiased art consultant who is respected by clientele across the country. I dedicate every single moment of every single day to cultivating and maintaining this reputation.

My service on this commission has been one of the highlights of my historic preservation career. Not only did it afford me the opportunity to think in new and dynamic ways about the challenges of urban infill, but it gave me the chance to work with a group of fellow commissioners whom I respect immensely. It has been an absolute honor to serve my community alongside such bright and engaged citizens who share my passion for our city’s past and future.

I notified my fellow commissioners of my decision yesterday afternoon, and assured them that I look forward to seeing them all at future meetings ——— with me on the other side of the podium ——- where I can continue to participate in lively discussions as a citizen and advocate for the city that I love. Nobody has seen the last of me!

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