Preserving Capitol views | Arkansas Blog

Preserving Capitol views

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The state took control of planning issues around the state Capitol and Governor's Mansion some years ago to protect those historic structures. It took a lawsuit by Quapaw Quarter resident and preservationist Dan Cook to stop a plan to violate the land use rules in the district by constructing a five-story building across from the Capitol.

Stymied by the court case, the Capitol Zoning District Commission now is intent on rewriting the rules. Cook argues that, if the rules are to be rewritten when they don't suit one particular developer (here a political buddy of Gov. Mike Beebe, Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter), what's the point of having rules at all?

PS — Though a proposal has been drafted to allow taller buildings around the Capitol (thus clearing the way for
Burkhalter's building), the Zoning Commission will have to decide whether to recommend that change. It will meet on that at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Any new ordinance would be subject to review and "advice" from a legislative committee as well.

Cook has written to neighbors about the issue, saying:

The Capitol Zoning District Commission will be proposing an amendment to its Ordinance that should be of a concern to any citizen of the State that wants to preserve the prominence of our Capitol.

Preserving the prominence of the State Capitol was the basis for the establishment of the Commission in the mid 1970s. It took control of zoning of properties immediately around the Capitol because our City of Little Rock had allowed the construction of a 6-story building directly across from the front entryway to the Capitol. This building has greatly diminished the view of the Capitol

As a result of the creation of the Commission, a Master Plan for the Capitol Area was developed ordering a restriction on height of buildings to 3 stories so as to maintain the view of the Capitol dome. It was found that because of the slope of the land some taller buildings could be built that would not obstruct the view of the dome. Thus an additional 2 stories could be added in limited areas and only under certain condition. This is referred to as a condition height.

However, on 3 separate occasions the Commission had issued one developer a permit to build a 5-story building next to the 6-story building mentioned above. Again directly across the front of the Capitol. The developer could not qualify for a conditional height. A legal appeal found, as some expected, that the Commission had erred in its decisions. The court ruled that if the Commission was going to allow 5-story buildings they would have to amend the Ordinance as was stated in the ordinance. It now appears that this is what some Commission members propose to do.

The Commission approach would, however, appear to only benefit one property owner, the same person to whom the Commission granted permission before. Other property owners, whose properties share the same topographic and physical conditions, would still not be allowed that right. This developer, however, would be granted special privileges to build his five-story building, which will obstruct the view of the Capitol dome for those driving west on I-630.

If passed, this amendment will be the first step in weakening the Ordinance by members of the Commission who will pander to developers rather then following the dictates of the State.

If you share my concern, please voice it to the Commission by phone or e-mail or go to the meeting this Thursday.

Boyd Maher

E-mail Address: boyd.maher@arkansas.gov

Phone 324-9644

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