Senator targets Capitol Zoning District Commission for possible abolition, joined by Nate Bell UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Senator targets Capitol Zoning District Commission for possible abolition, joined by Nate Bell UPDATE

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 at 5:41 PM

FENCING AGAIN: Capitol Zoning District Commission again spurs controversy, in part because of the battle over this home's fence height.
  • FENCING AGAIN: Capitol Zoning District Commission again spurs controversy, in part because of the battle over this home's fence height.

Here we go again. Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson confirms that he had the Capitol Zoning District Commission's $250,000 budget sent back to committee this week because he's considering whether to recommend abolition of the commission.

Hutchinson said he'd fielded complaints from at least three people over decisions by the commission, which regulates land use in neighborhoods around the Capitol and Governor's Mansion. They include Patrick Cowan, who's been battling unsuccessfully for years to get a higher-than-rules allow ornamental fence approved for his historic home at 14th and Scott. The fence is up, but has not been taken down as court appeals have continued. Cowan was at the Capitol today talking with legislators. Hutchinson said he'd met Cowan only recently, after he'd already begun hearing from others.

Several years ago, a run was made at abolishing the commission by Rep. Nate Bell of Mena. He was working in behalf of a then-legislative staff member who'd also had a fence disagreement with the Commission, later resolved.

Hutchinson said he was sympathetic to arguments that commission decisions could only be appealed to circuit court and that the state could save money by allowing the city of Little Rock to resume regulation. He said his own experience in going through the city planning process for a new private club in which he's a partner on Cantrell Road had been professional and efficient. "Why not let them handle it?" he asked.

Hutchinson said he'd also fielded some complaints about the city Historic District Commission that oversees a neighborhood around MacArthur Park. It, like the CZDC, is a creature of state law. But he said he didn't have anything in mind for that group as yet. He has no firm plans on the Capitol Zoning issue yet, he said, but he's gathering information.

The commission has been in operation since the mid-1970s. The neighborhoods were in decline. The commission was established by the legislature to protect the neighborhoods and, particularly, prptect how state landmarks would appear relative to surrounding property. It has three employees and operates from a small house on the Capitol grounds. The city provides enforcement staff. It's governed by a commission appointed mostly by the governor, the senator's uncle. Its current chair is a member of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's staff, Kelly Eichler.

UPDATE: Those who think the Zoning District Commission is worthy of continued existence better act fast. 

Rep. Nate Bell of Mena is back on the case, trying to tell people in Little Rock how neighborhoods ought to be regulated.  He's attempting to insert "special language" into the appropriation bill — the kind of thing done secretly in committee without full floor debate — to abolish the agency by the end of the year and turn its duties over to the city of Little Rock. Maybe the LR Planning Commission could then declare Bell a public nuisance.

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