After an hour and a half long public hearing and another hour of board debate, the city board tonight voted 7-3 in favor of amending city code to require certain operations — small food stores that sell beer and wine, community welfare centers (like the VA's controversial plan to move a drop-in clinic to 10th and Main and establishments that care for people with drug, alcohol and psychiatric problems — to apply for a conditional use permits. Vice Mayor Dean Kumpuris said the ordinance would give people earlier notice and input into planned businesses: "It doesn't change anybody's ability to use that property. They just have to be honest about it on the front end."
Mayor Mark Stodola tonight prefaced the public hearing on the ordinance by saying the VA had obtained a building permit earlier in the day and the ordinance would not apply to the clinic (see earlier post on blog), but it didn't dissuade those who supported the clinic and those who opposed it from speaking anyway. Drake Mann, who sits on the board of the Brain Injury Center located in the VA-leased building on Main (therefore grandfathering it in, in the opinion of the city attorney) and is the attorney for the owner of the building being leased by the VA, criticized the ordinance for bypassing planning commission review, a point made later by City Director Ken Richardson. Mann said the "peculiar nature" of the ordinance, which was believed to have been triggered by the clinic, had left some people "concerned that the other shoe is going to fall and these folks have too much investment to not then seek redress in the courts to challenge the reality of this emergency."
Mann clarified this statement to The Arkansas Times later: "If we need to, we will take action, if they use this ordinance in any way to jerk around SI Properties, then we will ask the court to invalidate the ordinance."
Downtown resident Robin Loucks took the VA to task for referring to downtown residents and business owners who weren't happy to see a clinic that will primarily serve the homeless locate on Main as "gentry," instead of a diverse community whose investments had rejuvenated neighborhoods downtown.
There was no comment from the public about the other businesses affected by the bill. City Directors Doris Wright and Ken Richardson had some objections to the 5,000-square-foot limit applied to food stores in the ordinance, and Wright and City Director B.J. Wyrick complained that it didn't address those larger businesses that are located in C-3 zoned areas on larger arterials that are the entrance to neighborhoods. Kumpuris said necessary changes to the bill could be made later.
The no votes came from Wright and Richardson; Director Lance Hines, whose unsuccessful motion to amend the ordinance to delete the references to the food stores so they could be dealt with separately, voted present. He joined the majority on the emergency clause, so the ordinance goes into effect immediately.