by Max Brantley
Developer Ted Upshaw promises a neighborhood protest at tonight's Little Rock Board of Directors meeting over city planners' approval of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center on the grounds of the former Oasis Renewal Center on Cooper Orbit Road, just outside the western city limits but within the city's planning jurisdiction.
As Upshaw tells it, city officials approved the Recovery Centers of Arkansas's use of the property for a residential center without going through a public review before the Board of Adjustment or Planning Commission. Upshaw says Planning Director Tony Bozynski decided that a previously approved nonconforming use of the property by another group for activities by handicapped children could be extended to the Recovery Centers.
Upshaw isn't happy that Recovery Centers, which has facilities in Little Rock across from Catholic High and in North Little Rock on Riverfront Drive, says on its website that it can offer a route to rehab rather than jail for some criminal offenders facing drug- and alcohol-related charges. Upshaw's subdivision, Governor's Manor, adjoins the proposed rehab property. It has eight houses built and four more under construction. He said he had to go through a lengthy city review process when he proposed to change the approved pitch of roofs and make other alterations in his subdivision. He doesn't understand why a rehab center can bypass scrutiny altogether. He thinks Recovery Centers may benefit from political connections. It lists as a Board member Nancy Kumpuris, whose husband, Drew, is the brother of City Director Dean Kumpuris. A number of well-known people serve on the board, however. Recovery Centers is a long established agency with roots dating back to the 1950s as a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Upshaw says several city directors have indicated sympathy to his position.
I have a call in to Tony Bozynski and Recovery Centers.
UPDATE: City Attorney Tom Carpenter informs me that the land has been treated like an O-3 zoning in the past and continuation of that treatment would allow certain types of drug and alcohol treatment facilities. The city is still reviewing questions about that. Another issue of interest on a broader scale is this: If the applicant for this property had been turned down, the applicant could have appealed to the Board of Adjustment. But there's no provision in city law for someone to appeal a city approval of a use. There probably should be. And a public process in which administrative decisions were published and a period of time was given to respond.
UPDATE II: I talked with Tony Bozynski. He retierates that the property, which came under city jurisdiction in 1992, has been treated administratively since then as an O-3 and that category includes drug and alcohol facilities. Nonconforming uses follow the land, not ownership, so a change in ownership doesn't affect that interpretation. He also said information submitted by Recovery Centers indicated that it would accept no people for treatment by direct transfer from a criminal justice facility. He said planning officials still believed they'd made the right decision in this case.