by Max Brantley
Kathy Wells forwarded to me the summary of written comments on developer John Burkhalter's push to change rules in the Capitol Zoning District so he can build a five-story office building at Sixth and Woodlane across from the Capitol. Burkhalter, a political power and strong supporter of Gov. Mike Beebe (he's now on the Highway Commission), stuffed the mailbox. (Sorry, I originally wrote the building would be six stories rather than five where the current rules limit construction there to three stories.)
The issue won't be decided on mail count alone, of course. Politics will out. Seven of the nine Commission appointees are named by the governor, just for starters. The chair, Ron Maxwell, is an employee of the governor as Governor's Mansion operations chief. One commissioner is appointed by the secretary of state. Mark Martin, overseer of the Capitol (and presumably interested in development that might detract from its appearance), has yet to be heard from on the issue.
Boyd Maher, director of the Commission, wrote the following:
CZDC staff received written comments from 87 Arkansas residents in opposition to the proposed rezoning. The following elected officials wrote in opposition to the proposal, and are included in the figure above: Rep. Darrin Williams, Rep. Kathy Webb, Rep. Sheila Lampkin, and LR City Director Erma Hendrix. (Not included are two letters we received from former Arkansans.)
Seven organizations also submitted letters of opposition: LR Downtown Neighborhood Assn, Quapaw Quarter Assn, Historic Preservation Alliance of AR, Capitol View/Stifft Station Neighborhood Assn, Assn of AR Counties, and Main Street Dumas.
Tallying the written comments in support of the proposal was problematic. On the last day of the public comment period (8/8), Mr. Burkhalter personally delivered more than 700 letters in support of the proposed rezoning. Many of these letters, however, were duplicates — that is to say, an individual (or household) would sign multiple letters in support of the proposal. Staff has spent the better part of this week sorting through the stack, trying to match up each support letter with others from the same address. Many letters did not list any address or city (so we cannot confirm whether they are from Arkansas residents), and many more were completely illegible, greatly complicating our task.
When we took out all the letters with no address and those without a legible signature, and consolidated all the duplicates — we were left with 130 individual letters of support to include in the record. It’s hard to say if that number is exact (for the reasons described above), but we’re fairly confident it’s something close to that. One elected official wrote in support — Sherwood Alderman Kenneth Keplinger.
Two organizations also submitted letters of support for the proposed rezoning: the AR Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, and the AR Homefurnishings Assn.
So all that to say — 132 in favor, 94 opposed.
The proposal will be on the Commission’s agenda at its regular meeting on Aug 25.