by Max Brantley
A political backer of Gov. Mike Beebe, Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter, won a round at the Capitol Zoning District Commission this evening when the commission voted unanimously to put out for public hearing a proposal to change rules governing land use around the Capitol to lift a three-story height limit so Burkhalter can build a five-story building at Sixth and Woodlane.
Huge opposition to the idea came from the Quapaw Quarter Association and the Downtown Neighborhood Association. If there are to be rules to protect the integrity of Capitol and Governor's Mansion neighborhoods, what worth are those rules if they can be changed any time a fat cat pal of the governor comes along and says he needs special treatment?
Here's a ton of background on the fight, which was beaten in a court case by a preservationist.
If I understand this correctly, the vote tonight only opens the door to a public hearing process — more opposition sure to be heard — and then a rulemaking process that ultimately will require an OK from a legislative committee.
In the end, it's simple: Can a Beebe fat cat beat the wishes of the neighborhood?
I know. Silly question. Preservationist Dan Cook, whose legal action forced the rules change procedure, commented:
Mr. Heiple's remark that the proposed 5 story building will not obstruct the view of the Capitol dome is completely erroneous. Either he does not understand what is considered to be the dome or he has not studied the topography maps in detail. We are prepare to present evidence that will prove him to be wrong.
There is absolutely nothing in any part of the Ordinance that would justify allowing a 5 story building situated in a dedicated view corridor to obstruct the view of the Capitol dome. No matter what they attempt, that fact will not change.
Allowing what they are proposing will require a complete rewrite of the Capitol Area Master Plan, Goals, General Standards as well as the Capitol Area Design Standards. If they decide that this is what they want to do, then they are only repeating action of the City of Little Rock during the 1960s and early 70s.
UPDATE: A detailed report from the Downtown Neighborhood's Kathy Wells and more from Cook:
The CZD Commission, despite “extensive communication” from neighbors opposed to rezoning property to allow a taller building at Woodlane & Victory, voted this evening without dissent to begin rezoning property covering John Burkhalter’s proposal for a five-story Arkansas First Building, plus adjacent area. They acted after Dan Scott’s legal victory and a judge’s decision the Commission could not just grant a variance from the regulations for the taller structure, but had to rezone the property, following the steps of the Ark. Administrative Procedures Act.
Following state law, a public hearing will be held, and for a time, probably 30 days, public comment will be taken. Then the Commission will vote to adopt the proposal, revise the proposal, or drop the rezoning.
The current plan is to conduct a public hearing as part of the regular Commission meeting of July 28, officials indicated. A formal announcement is to follow.
President Sharon Welch-Blair of DNA spoke at citizen comment time following the Commission action. There was no public comment allowed before the vote. She urged Commission members to uphold policies adopted years ago to protect the Capitol and its views across the community.
Commission members held no discussion before the vote, and no roll call was taken.
A notable comment came from Tim Heiple, architect for the Burkhalter project, who observed the rezoning under consideration covered a large area and a number of different property owners. He said this rezoning covered too broad an area, and he suggested reducing the rezoning area to the Burkhalter building alone. He said this building would not in fact obstruct views of the Capitol, in its position, but other tall buildings, if built in the area to be rezoned, might well do so.
NOTE: John Burkhalter arranged to bring his plans and speak to members of DNA at the Jul. 14 session, at 6 p.m. (new time) at 500 E. 21st St., the ALERT Ctr. The public is invited.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS FROM DAN COOK:
Allow me to continue my discusion about last night's CZDC meeting.
There were 3 things mentioned last night that didn't reflect the complete story.
First, was that other properties had been granted height variances in the past. While this may be true you must remember that granting variance to height was ruled an illegal amendment and so, those structures would have been issued an invalid permit. The four story, full block parking deck on one of the blocks to be rezoned is an example. This was presented in such a way as to make it seem justifiable to allow other properties addition height above the allowed 3 stories. When you drive down 7th Street toward the State Capitol, ask yourself if the view of the Capitol dome was maintained with the addition of that parking deck.
Second, while it is techically correct to say that 5 stories are allow in Zone A1 the most critical part of the story is that it is only allowed on Capitol Ave and in addition, the floors above the allowed 3 stories must be set back 50 feet from the front property line "in order to protect the view of the State Capitol and Dome."
Also down played was the fact that at present the other properties not located on Capitol Ave are not allowed any addition height to the 3 story limit. In order to allow this one property owner to have his 5 story build they have had to change the general standards to allow all the property in Zone A1 to have the right to 5 stories.
What was not mentioned is the fact that in Zone A1, unlike Zone C, there is no slope criteria as part of the conditional height review. When the Ordinance was adopted in 1999, Zone A1's conditional height review required a property slope of 20 percent or more in order to qualify for additional height. In Zone C the requirement is 10 percent or more. The 20 percent requirement was removed in a later amendment when it was decided to only allow the Capitol Ave property to have additional height. Now, I was told that it really wasn't necessary because the design review standards required builders to maintain the view of the Capitol dome. That is absolutely true. However, it did not prevent the Commission from approving the Design permit for Mr. Burkhalter's building 3 different times. That was after they had already approved a Design permit for the 4 story parking deck I mentioned before.
I am not sure what it will take for the members of the Commission to start protecting the prominence of our Capitol over protecting the financial interest of one individual, but if this amendment, in its present form is adopted, I see us going back to the courts for a resolution.
Thanks for your attention,
Dan Cook, friend of the Capitol