by Max Brantley
Some cleanup from last night's marathon Little Rock City Board meeting:
* VETS CENTER: City Attorney Tom Carpenter said he was studying, but as yet had no opinion, on whether the fact that the Veterans Affairs Department has applied for a building permit to convert a Main Street building for a day center for vets puts it beyond the reach of any future change in zoning ordinances. An ordinance that would have required a conditional use permit for the vets center was deferred last night. He believes the center will have to go through the Board of Adjustment process for review of significant building modifications, parking and landscaping. The use of the property is not an issue the board reviews.
I got additional info on two bits of interesting testimony at the lengthy hearing last night. 1) John McKay, a realtor representing buyers of the Main Street vacant building to rent to the VA, said the city planning department was told almost three months ago about the proposed purchase of the building for vet center use and he said he offered to take any questions. He said he was told the use was permitted by zoning ordinance and so his negotiations continued to close the sale 60 days later, in January. Dana Carney of the planning office said he and director Tony Bozynski don't recall such a conversation. 2) An advocate of the vets center said the VA had tried to get approval to use a commercial building near its existing center at 2nd and Ringo to expand several years, but was denied. Carney said he thought that request concerned a former auto parts store on land that falls under the jurisdiction of the Capitol Zoning District Commission and did not come through the city. The VA has said repeatedly that the city has always resisted its ideas about new locations over the years.
A VA spokesman said it is proceeding with plans for the Main Street work, though VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has been asked to intervene by U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin and hasn't made his thoughts known yet. VA officials will meet Monday with Griffin and Mayor Stodola about the location. The VA, too, isn't certain at what point its plans could be considered far enough advanced to be beyond the reach of a new zoning ordinance. The city hasn't approved its building permit yet and it may also, for example, withhold a certificate of occupancy if it wanted to be difficult. The spokesman said she doubted the renovations to the building would be sufficient — more than 50 percent of the building's replacement value — to trigger Board of Adjustment review, but no firm figures are in hand. She said the developers intended to do everything necessary to meet neighbors' concerns about security and landscaping improvements.
* PLEASANT RIDGE TOWNE CENTER: The city board approved, 10-2, a proposal to realign two front entrances,
add a new rear entrance and improve traffic signals at the Pleasant Ridge shopping center on Highway 10. The center developer will pay for the work. The staff opposed the measure because of the impact on the major arterial, Highway 10. It's a mess out there. CORRECTION: This occurred after I checked out. City Director Brad Cazort said the measure did not include a new rear entrance as originally proposed. That idea was removed previously.
* TAX WATCHDOGS: The board approved members of the Little Rock Citizen Evaluation of New Tax Committee (CENT) which will oversee how the city spends its new sales tax income. Gary Smith and Sybil Jordan Hampton wer named co-chairs. Other members:
* Ward 1 — Chrystal Gray
* Ward 2 — Dr. Anika Whitfield
* Ward 3 — Steve Strickland
* Ward 4 — Kyle Demilt
* Ward 5 — Peter McKinney O'Conor
* Ward 6 — Masheerah Tharp
* Ward 7 — Don Shellabarger
At-large — Charles Blake, Khayyam Eddings, Troy Laha