by Max Brantley
Gabe Holmstrom, chief of staff for the Arkansas House of Representatives, wanted to build a fence around his Quapaw Quarter house. He found out — as a restorer of another graceful downtown renovation project had found earlier — that rules for the Capitol Zoning District limit frontyard fences to 40 inches. He wanted eight inches more, enough to keep his dog from escaping. But rather than seek a waiver (no certainty based on the other restorer's experience), he influenced legislative hardball.
First, the budget of the Capitol Zoning District Commission, a state agency, got held up. Then Rep. Nate Bell offered legislation to abolish the commission entirely.
Ultimately, something of a compromise was reached. CZDC got its budget. The abolition bill died. The Commission held a hearing on changing the fence rule — to 48 inches for front yards and from six to eight feet for backyard fences. Arguments were heard, among them that, despite the 40-inch rule, all manner of larger unsightly fences existed in the district. But preservationists urged retention of the rule, which they said was in keeping with historic appearances. Various committees split on the issues.
Here's an exhaustive summary of the debate prepared for the Commission.
Yesterday, a climactic chapter in the story:
The Capitol Zoning District Commission voted 9 to 0 NOT to change the fence rule.
Quite a unified voice. You have to wonder if buried in it might be just a little bit of blowback at the political meddling that had occurred. Or maybe they merely were persuaded by the staff's recommendation in favor of status quo.
The question now is whether that vote IS the final chapter. There's another legislative session in January and state agency budgets will again be up for approval.