by Max Brantley
Judge Jay Moody today invalidated a permit granted by the Capitol Zoning District for a five-story office building at Sixth and Woodlane Streets across the street from the Capitol. We wrote about this earlier.
Dan Cook, who's been active in downtown historic preservation, had sued over the permit. The judge agreed with Cook's argument that the commission couldn't waive a three-story height limit in the neighborhood without amending the zoning plan. This process requires public hearings and a legislative committee's approval of the change. The commission, appointed by the governor, oversees land use in neighborhoods around the Capitol and the Governor's Mansion. The height limit was put in place to prevent new construction from blocking Capitol views. Cook said he thought the restriction was important and hoped that it would be retained.
"If they are going to amend the plan to allow things that were not allowed, I'm not sure why need to regulate it at all. Why not just give jurisdiction back to city and let them do it, " Cook said.
Cook said discussions are already underway about amending the plan and that he's prepared to oppose it. Burkhalter is a recent Beebe appointee to the state Highway Commission whose investments include a technology company.
Boyd Maher, director of the Commission, said he'd have to talk to commissioners to decide what comes next — an appeal of the judge's ruling or the beginning of a process to change the rules in some fashion to allow it. Burkhalter was not a party in the case, but intervened. He had won the waiver by arguing that he'd have a hardship in building a structure with enough square feet to be profitable without the additional floors. Opponents responded that he should have contemplated the limit in buying the property.
Both Maher and Cook noted that the judge didn't consider the broader issue, whether the Commission had received sufficient evidence to justify the waiver. The failure to follow administrative procedures was enough to sink the permit. Joel Hooever, who represented Burkhalter Capital Development in the intervention, said they'd have no comment.