Every now and then people in power whether at the federal, state or city level get reminded that one of their primary roles as elected "public servants" is to make life more reasonable and understandable for their constituents rather than difficult and complicated. There are many ways in which they can accomplish this noble end, but none is more profound than city officials adopting suitable zoning ordinances to regulate the orderly growth and development of their municipalities. Some cities take a more open and permissive view of how they want things to happen and, therefore, have fairly un-restrictive ordinances. By contrast, other cities want to control everything from where buildings are built, how they are built and what they look like to what services can be performed in those buildings, what hours they can operate and who can be served. Since people often times choose where they are going to invest capital, work and/or live based on what end of this spectrum they find most appealing, there is an expectation that the established rules of the game should be somewhat static and not be whimsically changed.
Just recently, however, the City of Little Rock, decided it would revise an ordinance dealing with uses normally permitted by right to require that a Conditional Use Permit be obtained at certain businesses throughout the city. Ostensibly, the intent as reported by our local newspaper was to clean up some on-going nuisance problems with various commercial operations like "convenience stores, pawnshops, group homes and treatment centers". However, this effort came to light almost on the very day the local Veterans Administration office announced that they had entered into a contract to purchase and renovate a property on Main Street where they could consolidate and improve many services now offered to homeless veterans in separate locations in the city. Given the fact that Little Rock's past history in dealing with the homeless population is less than stellar, even being tagged the "meanest city in America" several years ago when they proposed to close down some homeless encampments, the timing of this initiative obviously became highly suspect. But to be fair, the City recently did enter into a partnership with another homeless service provider to create a day resource center for the general homeless population, even though it is far removed from the downtown area where many other support services like public transportation and feeding centers exist. For those unfamiliar with Little Rock, Main Street is a major commercial business thoroughfare in downtown along which there are many buildings and storefronts that have been vacant for years, so it is still unclear just how this proposed new VA center would adversely affect the area. The City's contention is that the timing was just a coincidence, but the proposed ordinance had an emergency clause which would have made its mandate effective immediately upon being passed, so you be the judge.
In any event thanks to some apparently very persuasive and cogent arguments made during a three hour Board of Directors meeting this past Tuesday night, the matter was thankfully tabled for further study and consideration. Whether this is the end, who knows, as city governments always have the power to bring something they do not like to a screeching halt. Regardless, when our public servants get to the point where they feel that enacting less than subtle, retro-active zoning changes is a good idea, then it's time to get some new faces on our governing board. Some members are up for election this year, others are up in 2014.