by Max Brantley
Too late for me last night, I received some promised comments from several who participated in the Pulaski County Planning Board's meeting on proposed land use rules for the Lake Maumelle watershed.
I was properly chastised for suggesting the hearing was mostly a platform for the black helicopter crowd. They were out in force, with Koch-organized fury, but I should have noted — as I knew — that a broad spectrum of people wanted a delay in approval of the rules. These included protectors of the watershed who've said for weeks that the rules are too lax on developers.
I fear, however, that delay at this point best serves those who want no rules at all in the watershed. I'd wish that further deliberation would encourage wisdom about the long-range need for a plan that requires less intensive development. But I think Deltic Timber, the major landowner, has already worked its high-dollar magic. I sadly conclude that County Judge Buddy Villines is right. If the current plan — perhaps with some tweaks — isn't adopted there's a chance nothing will be adopted, with truly disastrous consequences for the water supply. But that's no reason to stop trying to persuade the Quorum Court to toughen the proposal.
The Quorum Court will take this up Dec. 20. Expect, first, a delaying action at a minimum from representatives of the west end of the county. Those who want delay will then vote against the rules if delay fails them. Enough votes to block? Hard to say. Are the delayers serious about a desire to "improve" the rules? Only, I suspect, if by improvement you mean no restrictions on rural landowners. But they'll find it convenient to hide behind environmentalists' call for delay to appear reasonable.
Read on for some comments from Planning Board Chairman Don Castleberry (a solid community citizen whom I've known for years on account of other projects), and Kate Althoff and Barry Haas, still battling for better water protection.
My "yes" vote (in fact it was my motion), was largely based on my conclusion that 1. if rejected, it might never return. 2. Even with flaws and limitations, it is better than no plan. 3. The Q.C. can make changes if they choose. Finally, we, the Commission, as a practical matter are not equipped to rewrite it ourselves, and even if we tried, there's no reason to think anyone would accept our version.
KATE ALTHOFF of CITIZENS PROTECTING MAUMELLE WATERSHED
It was one of the most eventful meetings I have attended. Honestly few college football games could have equaled the entertainment. Approximately 100 people attended. The State Farm Bureau, small landowners, Occupy Little Rock, Arkansas Realtors Association, Sierra Club, Citizens Protecting Maumelle Watershed, black helicopter conspirators, an attorney, Koch Brothers lobbyist, and League of women voters were all present and all of them asked the Planning Board to delay their vote to allow time to improve the current zoning code.
Central Arkansas Water stood alone in support of the proposed zoning code. Incorrect statements were numerous. Fear and righteousness often dominated the meeting. The small land owners frequently heckled the planning board. In the last minutes of the meeting Don Castleberry addressed his follow board members setting the stage for a vote. Mr. Castleberry in a quiet and thoughtful way explained his limited abilities as a Planning Board member as he faced his great concerns over several short comings in the current zoning code including the protection of water quality. In the end he felt he had no other choice but to send the zoning code to the Quorum Court where refinements could be made by elected officials in the legislative as opposed the appointed members of the planning board. More board members followed Mr. Castleberry’s example. This was followed by a unanimous vote to recommend the zoning code to the quorum court without revision.
BARRY HAAS OF CITIZENS PROTECTING LAKE MAUMELLE
Shortly after the 3:00 p.m. start of the Pulaski County Planning Board meeting, discussion turned to Item 3 under New Business:
"Lake Maumelle Watershed Land Use Plan and Regulations- Presentation of Resolutions"
There was a 40-minute presentation by Planning Department Director Van McClendon explaining numerous changes to the draft Lake Maumelle Watershed Zoning Code released to the public late Friday. Many people who have been closely following the issue complained they had not been given sufficient time to study the latest changes before today's Planning Board meeting.
Early on the Planning Board passed a motion that they intended to vote today and not delay the vote as they did last month. Numerous requests for a delay were made with proponents arguing the Zoning Code needed further work before moving it to the Quorum Court for final action.
At first the 35 people who signed up to comment were told all comments would have to be made within a 30-minute comment period. But general dissatisfaction among the audience with that decision led the Planning Board to reconsider and allow each speaker 3 minutes.
All 35 speakers, whether watershed residents concerned about how the draft Zoning Code might intrude on their present lifestyle and property rights or those working to protect the water in Lake Maumelle, spoke in opposition to the Zoning Code. Many watershed landowners were opposed to any Zoning Code while others objected to the Zoning Code "in its present form". Some urged the Planning Board to make changes like those enumerated by Citizens Protecting Maumelle Watershed and to get everyone together in hopes an agreement could be reached on an improved Zoning Code that would adequately protect Lake Maumelle water quality while at the same time respecting the property interests of watershed landowners. All those pleadings were in vain. The Planning Board voted unanimously to pass two Resolutions, one supporting the Land Use Plan and the other supporting the Zoning Code. The Planning Board refused to recommend any Zoning Code changes to the Quorum Court.
The Pulaski Co. Quorum Court will meet on Tuesday December 20 and may consider the draft Zoning Code which almost everyone except Central Arkansas Water and Pulaski Co. government believe to be poorly drafted and unable to protect our drinking water while intruding on existing watershed landowners unnecessarily.