by Max Brantley
Downtown resident Dan Cook, a former member of the Capitol Zoning District Commission, has filed a lawsuit over the commission's recent approval of a five-story office building at Sixth and Woodlane, across the street from the Capitol.
Zoning issues in the Capitol and Governor's Mansion neighborhood are governed by state law, which sets a three-story limit on buildings in the Capitol and Mansion area. Some exceptions are allowed when topographical issues might present an undue burden for developers, but Cook says no such justification was offered for this variance. Cook also contends that exceptions to the height limit in the Capitol area can only be made by a change in the governing ordinance (state law), not by a waiver of the rule.
The commission staff recommended denial of the proposal from John Burkhalter, who's politically well-connected. He's a developer, president of Burkhalter Technologies andchairman of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe. He was out of pocket this afternoon. Cook said he understood an ad agency was one of the tenants planned for the building. Burkhalter has also talked about putting his own offices there. The property has a parking lot and a one-story former medical clinic on it now.
Cook lives in the Mansion neighborhood and has an interest in how the Zoning Commission carries out its duties. He also worked on the group that developed the state law's height limits in 1998. Cook said the commission voted unanimously, with one member absent, to override the staff recommendation.