Rep. Nate Bell’s special language to abolish the Capitol Zoning District Commission is expected to come up in Joint Budget this morning.
The Mena representative might get away with taking over who handles regulation of development in the historic neighborhoods downtown if, for no other reason, the usual default of city leadership. I could NOT believe a city spokesman said yesterday the city had no comment on the proposal. I can tell you reliably 1) the city doesn’t have adequate staff to handle current zoning matters much less new duties 2) a special ordinance would be required to transfer the special historic controls in the Capitol Zoning District to city control. Or else all protection for those neighborhoods around the Capitol and Governor’s Mansion would be lost. Demolition and unsightly alterations would be a snap.
Strong Mayor Mark Stodola hasn’t found a parade to lead on this yet. But people are talking to LITTLE ROCK representatives, as opposed to those who represent Mena and Benton (Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson). Perhaps they’ll find a spine that doesn’t exist in City Hall.
UPDATE: Mayor Stodola weighs in, definitively:
I and the city do not think it is a good idea to take over the CZDC. I don’t think Jeremy understands the process. Same goes for his musings of trying to abolish the MacArthur Park Historic District Commission. That is not going to happen.
UPDATE: Legislators including Rep. Warwick Sabin of Little Rock are working on a way to address some of Hutchinson’s concerns by preserving the Commission but providing for an appeals process to the state Department of Arkansas Heritage. Appeals now go to Circuit Court.
UPDATE: Action in special language subcommittee today adopted not Nate Bell’s amendment but one by Hutchinson to transfer duties of the Commission to the Department of Arkansas Heritage, with staff decisions appealable to the director of the agency and then circuit court. Rep. Charles Blake and Sen. Joyce Elliott opposed the action. Elliott noted — as I would as well — that this is substantive, not fiscal legislation, and isn’t likely constitutional without an explicit change of rules. The governor’s budget director, Duncan Baird, noted that as well.
UPDATE: The Quapaw Quarter Association has entered the fray, urging its supporters to call legislators to fight the end of the Commission, which it cited for important contributions to the historic neighborhoods.