Central Arkansas Library Director Bobby Roberts, hotel developer John McKibbon and architects huddled Tuesday to see if a compromise could be reached on the design of the 7-story aloft hotel McKibbon wants to build in the River Market adjacent to library property.
Roberts wants assurances that the hotel won't dwarf the library's Cox Center on Commerce — he'd like to see a stepped-back design — and that building materials would be in keeping with the district's design overlay. He'd also like to see retail on Commerce.
The City Board approved a motion by Director Dean Kumpuris last week to instruct the Planning Department to review the River Market's design overlay. The motion came hot on the heels of the River Market Design Committee's 2-2 decision not to recommend in favor of aloft's request for a variance to build a nearly-90-foot hotel in the district, which restricts buildings to 48 feet. Several at that meeting noted that all new construction in the district had been granted variances and suggested the restrictions were outmoded.
If city planners decide simply to lift the district's height rules, “that would be a problem,” Roberts said, since it would open the door to replacing the older two- and three-story buildings in the district — which lend it its charm — with tall structures. “My concern will not be with this project, but the next,” he said. He said the design overlay as a whole could probably use updating, a process that should involve the public.
Republican Phil Wyrick has been gaining a bit of traction in his race to unseat Democratic County Judge Buddy Villines. How? By supporting a compromise Lake Maumelle watershed management plan developed in a process begun by Central Arkansas Water and approved by environmentalists and neighborhood activists. So says Kathy Wells, a leader of the Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods who says she's supporting Wyrick. Villines has rejected the watershed management plan in favor of what the Coalition believes is a less-rigorous county ordinance. He cites as his authority technical opinions from engineers working for Deltic Timber, the biggest landowner and developer in the watershed. Wyrick also has picked up a couple of other supporters outside the usual Republican circles, judging by hosts listed on a fund-raiser invitation. They include, in addition to a Huckabee, a Hutchinson, a White, a Rockefeller and other familiar GOP names, former City Director Barbara Graves, who served on the City Board with Wyrick's wife, Director B.J. Wyrick, and state Rep. Pam Adcock, a Democrat.