A morning cheer for Jim Dailey, Sharon Priest | Arkansas Blog

A morning cheer for Jim Dailey, Sharon Priest



OK WITH VETS: Former Mayor Jim Dailey
  • OK WITH VETS: Former Mayor Jim Dailey
A round of applause this morning for former Mayor Jim Dailey and Sharon Priest, director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, who told the Democrat-Gazette that they didn't believe development of a vacant building at 10th and Main for a vets' clinic would deter Main Street redevelopment efforts.

Of course it won't. A $400,000 rehab to create $18-a-square-foot medical/counseling office space across the street from a problem liquor store and long-defunct after-hours club is not a bad thing.

I suspect that Dailey and Priest are taking the long view missing in Mayor Mark Stodola and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin's pitched resistance to accommodating veterans at this convenient place. Only a prolonged city legal battle — waged on technicalities invented by the city attorney's office — seems likely to stop the project now. It is far better to embrace it than to continue to fight and decry it as the ruination of Main Street. It's not only bad for the city's lacklustre image on serving the needy. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy for Main Street if city leaders continue to broadcast how terrible its occupants are.

Mayor Stodola's current spin — that this is purely a land-use issue, not about the clientele — is only a deflection from his and Griffin's core message: Mostly decrepit Main Street is too good for the American war veterans served by this facility. The land use issue isn't complicated. Such facilities are currently allowed by right under the zoning code. They'd still be allowed — after a hearing — under the tortured ordinance Stodola has tried to draw up to continue his five-year effort to push the VA (and other welfare agencies) out of downtown. There have been multiple hearings and private meetings on this facility. The VA has answered question after question. Neighbors have repeatedly expressed concerns. Given all that has transpired and with their reputation on the line, it is hard to imagine the VA doing anything but going the extra mile in making their clinic work properly.

How about let's simplify this? Let's present a resolution of support/opposition to the City Board. Let's short-circuit the talk about land-use ordinances, building permits and the other legal artifices dreamed up as proxies for the real issue. Do City Board members and our representatives in Congress think Main Street is too good for a veterans clinic or not? Call the roll.

PS — I want to pass along a note I got from the mayor after I noted he erred during the City Board meeting in describing the distance from the city's planned location of a homeless day resource center (which he's suggested as an alternative for the vets center) and another facility for homeless families, Our House. He defends his effort and criticizes what I've written. The floor to the mayor:

.... Re: distance issue: I may have misspoke, I haven’t had a chance to review the tape. I-30 is .6 tenths of a mile from the DRC and Our House is .8 tenths. We are both wrong. That means that re: bus service to Ft. Roots or the McClellan Hospital, it is about 6-7 blocks away and Our house is about 9 blocks away. CAT has regular bus service that picks up and drops off at URM and the DRC.

I am in no way wed to the VA being in the DRC, as the information above indicates; I simply offered it as a possibility as this is the model nationally. Regardless, to say that no alternatives have been suggested, is simply not true as the above information indicates. I now have a full-time medical clinic as of yesterday who wants to go into the DRC so there probably would not be room anyway.

Max, I would be happy to sit down with you and have a rational conversation, if you would allow for the same. Your rhetoric almost all the time suggests otherwise. (I haven’t “pushed” the VA to the city’s DRC and I did not “lead” the opposition to the previous location in the Capitol zoning district.).I have been told 300 people filed a petition in opposition. I simply wrote a letter saying it was not the best land use decision, and offered to help them find a place to relocate. They have chosen not to involve the City in finding a location. You may think that is all right, but it leads to mistrust, rather than an informed public. If I had done this, you would have howled and had me hung out to dry. I have worked very hard over the last few years on the homeless issue and understand the perception issues regardless of the reality. When things happen in the dark, it only exacerbates the problem. The VA homeless drop in center may very well be on Main St and while I think there are better locations from purely a land use standpoint, I will be there to help try and make it work with the adjacent neighborhoods. The CUP process which may not apply to this application for a building permit, would allow for reasonable and informed decisions when dealing with sensitive land use issues. This is needed for future sensitive land use issues. Public inclusion and public dialogue is a good thing. Let me know if you wish to have that conversation.

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