by Max Brantley
We love our veterans in Little Rock, just so long as those who come back from wars with problems go where nobody can see them.
The latest in Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola's crusade to keep a VA service center for vets off Main Street is a hurryup revision in Little Rock ordinances set for consideration next week. In short, it would require a conditional use permit from the City Board for a community health or welfare center, an establishment to care for alcoholic, narcotic or psychiatric patients, an establishment for religious, charitable or philanthropic organizations or for liquor stores.
Over the long haul, this has implications for dozens of organizations new and existing. In the short run, it would require a conditional use permit, not now required, for the VA day center, which has outgrown its space at 2nd and Ringo and has a lease and construction plans in hand for a new center at 10th and Main in an abandoned car dealership. Mayor Stodola has called the location idiotic. The neighborhood has been split on the issue. The VA has explained that all its clients are not homeless and all have agreed to rules of use in a facility that will be well regulated and secured.
The city will face no new obstacles in turning an aging homeless shelter on Confederate Boulevard into a city day homeless center. Mayor Stodola has already made it clear that he deems that neighborhood, with a nearby magnet school, suitable for dumping people, from the general homeless to military veterans enrolled in therapeutic, educational and vocational programs. U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, likewise, has joined those trying to force military veterans into the boondocks at a decrepit facility not yet up to code, not handicap accessible and otherwise an insult to the people Griffin and others invoke solemnly as political foils on Memorial Day.
There was a time when city legal minds said you couldn't simply set a NIMBY standard on treatment facilities, which this conditional use process will institutionalize. No neighborhood will want a treatment center. They will be awarded depending on how loud neighbors scream or how much clout neighborhoods have before the City Board. Confederate Boulevard? Not so much. Main Street? More. The Heights and Chenal? No need to ask. A rational, non-arbitrary standard for making these calls won't be possible, as they were under previous zoning.
VA officials said they just learned of the proposed ordinance today and weren't prepared to comment. They are still waiting to hear from the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, who was asked to review the Main Street proposal by Congressman Griffin. City officials believe the VA can cancel its lease without financial obligations because, even before this ordinance, Board of Adjustment approval was necessary for parking, landscaping and other aspects of the redevelopment plan. The city attorney thinks the lease cannot be enforced at cost to federal taxpayers if the VA hasn't obtained city approval. I don't know what the developer holding the contract thinks about that.
There's another looming problem in this hurryup lawmaking from the people at City Hall who once helped earn Little Rock the title of the meanest city in America in treatment of homeless. Removing liquor stores from by-right approval in all zoning categories essentially puts the city in control of where permits are granted in the city. That is a power reserved by law to the state. The city sees it differently. That's what courts are for, I guess.
PS — City claims, with utter lack of credibility, that this ordinance wasn't designed to stop the vets' center. Even if you give them that, you can't ignore the emergency that requires adoption next week before VA can get its building permit. The lying liars of City Hall are at it again. A proud day for the strong mayor.
PPS — Homeless advocate and downtown resident Robert Johnston poses some questions:
1. DG story quotes City Attorney Tom Carpenter ‘ This ordinance came about when we were looking at the complaints we were getting about lack of notification and community discussion…’
Perhaps you could/ should ask in an FOIA for those complaints?
2.. Perhaps you should/ could ask ‘ What is the emergency?’
3. Perhaps you should/ could ask a constitutional scholar at UALR Law about constituitionality of city requiring a church to seek conditional use permit before starting [or expanding? ] a church facility or outreach mission?
4. Bruce Moore has sent a memo that the Fiscal Impact is ‘None’ and that Citizen Participation is ‘ N/a’
a.If dozens of such permits are required how can fiscal impact be ‘none’?
b. If the city is sued by Fed Govt and/or religious groups how can fiscal impact be ‘none’?
c. Why no ‘Citizen participation’ in this 'emergency' move?