Central Arkansas Water endorses Maumelle zoning UPDATE

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As I mentioned yesterday, the Central Arkansas Water Commission meets this afternoon on a proposed zoning code for the Lake Maumelle watershed. Its less than environmentalists want and less, in its heart of hearts, than the water utility would want. But CEO Graham Rich has endorsed it as the best possible political compromise.

If approved today, it goes to the Pulaski County Planning Board and Quorum Court.

Here's the resolution before Central Arkansas Water today.

The proposed zoning code got still more changes late Friday from the county planning department. Vann McClendon, the planning director, says they are primarily changes to soften rules for small landowners — remove a 36-foot height restriction for accessory structures; increase the by-right expension of an existing residence from 500 to 1,000 square feet and clarify a rule on a family exclusion in developer definition.

Water protectors had hoped for lots more — particularly a dramatic reduction in the allowable residences. The plan now allows more than 35,000 in Pulaski County alone.

UPDATE: Kathy Wells, president of the Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods, reports that the commission has signed off on the proposal, though with a resolution that stopped short of a full-bore endorsement. Her report and from Barry Haas from a citizens group working to protect the watershed follows:

FROM KATHY WELLS:
Central Ark. Water Commission unanimously approved a resolution of support for the current Maumelle Watershed Zoning Code this afternoon in special session, giving the go-ahead message to the Pulaski Co. Planning Board, which is set to vote on the code tomorrow afternoon.

“Concerns” were raised, but the Commission let stand unchallenged the current allowance of 39,000 houses in the Watershed in Pulaski Co., despite being urged to oppose that feature by the Coalition of Greater LR Neighborhoods and Citizens Protecting Maumelle Watershed. Nor did the Commission ask for any delay to study new provisions issued by county planners just Friday evening. Many urged that delay, so this Code would be done right, and not rushed.

A number of current Watershed residents attended and objected, again, to provisions they said would block use of their property. New speakers came from the Pulaski County Farm Bureau and the Arkansas Farm Bureau, who echoed objections that the proposed code interfered with property rights of residents in Watershed today.

OccupyLR members attended and observed. This was an official event in the week’s calendar for the group, approved in their General Assembly. So is tomorrow’s Planning Board session.

The Coalition request for caps on houses allowed, and going slowly into development, testing the success of engineering, was repeated. The Coalition urged the Commission to endorse these points:

* Set the initial limit for new houses at 7,000 total.

* Review construction to date every 30 months, and decide whether a good performance at preventing pollution entering Lake Maumelle warrants permission for a developer to build more houses.

* Monitor runoff carefully.

No Commissioner added these items to their Resolution. Their assumption was to start with the 39,000-house limit, and see how that all works out. There is the pledge to monitor lake quality.

FROM BARRY HAAS

After considering a Resolution of support for the Lake Maumelle Watershed Zoning Code, including presentations by Lake Maumelle Watershed Administrator Martin Maner and CEO Graham Rich, questions from commissioners, and numerous comments by watershed property owners and those who have worked to protect our water quality, the CAW Board of Commissioners voted to support the draft Zoning Code.

They opted for Alternative 2 in the Resolution which reads:


"The Commission hereby endorses and supports the adoption of the Zoning Code; however, the Commission has concerns regarding the impact of the Zoning Code as described below."

Alternative 1 read:

"The Commission hereby endorses and fully supports the adoption of the Zoning Code in its current form, which will be presented to the Pulaski County Planning Board at its November 22, 2011 meeting."

Alternative 2 includes the following Sections in the Resolution which Alternative 1 did not:

* Section 3. The Zoning Code contains elements that are not directly related to water quality protection. While the Commission acknowledges that these elements are necessary for implementation of a comprehensive zoning plan and the cohesive development of the County, the Commission requests that the Pulaski County Quorum Court continue its efforts, along with CAW’s staff and the watershed constituents, to monitor the ongoing effects of these elements on the quality of life within the watershed.

* Section 4. The Commission has continuing concerns that dense development within the Lake Maumelle watershed will require an adequate set aside of land and/or other measures to offset any negative impacts on water quality. The Commission therefore asks that the County, in concert with CAW’s staff, closely monitor the methods of future development and their impact on water quality within the lake.

* Section 5. The Commission requests that the County periodically review the impact of all development within the watershed and make changes as needed, including to the Zoning Code, in response to development patterns within the watershed, the effectiveness of best management practices within the watershed, and the effects of development within the watershed."

Note in particular the first sentence in Section 4 about the potential need to set aside land or other measures to offset negative impacts on water quality. Not a single CAW commissioner thought it important to address (1) how much money the current draft Zoning Code would require CAW to spend to acquire even more land to offset the intense development allowed by the Zoning Code or (2) the cost of a new water treatment plant (estimated at $60 million by CAW CEO Graham Rich). The land CAW has acquired to date has cost them $12,000/acre on average for the 2,282.9 acres already purchased, a total of $27.4 million. Every $1 million CAW borrows adds 4-5-cents per ratepayer (think residential water meter) per month for 20 years.

Pleas from watershed property owners, Deltic Timber (in writing last Thursday), and Citizens Protecting Maumelle Watershed to delay a vote until the latest draft released less that three days ago could be read and understood were ignored by CAW commissioners. They chose to do it fast rather than get it right.

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