Planning butts heads with City Council over encroachments

Friday, September 28, 2012

Planning Commission Chairwoman Beverly Blankenship clashed a bit with Eureka Springs City Council on Monday over the issue of private encroachments on city-owned property.

At its Aug. 27 meeting, Aldermen Lany Ballance and Karen Lindblad had brought forward a request for Planning to research structures encroaching on public property.

"I would like a list of all of them," Ballance said at the time. "It would also be helpful to know what encroachments will be happening in the future. Because they will happen, and people will come forward and the city will just give the property to them. It would be a very good idea to know how much public property is already being encroached upon."

Ballance said at the time she felt Planning was very capable of doing the research "on a shoestring budget."

Ballance's request was received coolly by Planning, which sent a message back through Blankenship. "They have asked you to give us very specific detailed instructions as to what you want done," Blankenship said, "and include a budget line item to pay for it."

Blankenship said with the help of Mayoral Assistant Diane Wilkerson she had researched the issue and found the cost of hiring a surveyor to survey all the property involved would cost the city about $100,000 a year. "We went back through 126 years of encroachments and found basically one case per year over the past century," Blankenship said. "Given that, we really didn't understand what your goal at the end would be, or if it would really better the city to go through this process."

Ballance disagreed. "City council has asked Planning to specifically do this," she said, "If you used as much imagination and wherewithal as you have on a lot of these other projects [on Planning's agenda], you could at least get a start on it and that's just my opinion. I'd really hoped you would soldier up and take this on, but if it's beyond your abilities ..."

Alderman Butch Berry sided with Planning on the request. "I personally don't know if it would cost $100,000 or not," he said, "but we would require a real surveyor at least. You don't know what an encroachment is without a city survey. And the only way for Planning to do it is with a real survey of all the properties in Eureka. Many of these issues have involved residential as well as city properties. Miss Blankenship has done her due diligence in bringing us a report from Planning. While I am sympathetic, this is an item that comes up maybe once a year and maybe not even that often. So again I think we're wasting their time."

Ballance asked whether it would be possible to put laws in place to prevent future council's from giving away city property.

Weaver replied he considered it legally a bad idea to hogtie the hands of future councils in regard to disposal of city property, because there were reasons other than relinquishing property to encroachments for the city to have such control. He added to the discussion the fact the city cannot be "adversely possessed against," meaning that if someone builds on city property, they can be legally required by the city to tear it down.

Outdoor sales

Following a motion to discuss outdoor sales in the city, Blankenship said Planning had been going through older ordinances to make sure they were in order. "City code as worded only deals with city-sponsored events and outdoor sales as pertains to those events," she said. "We now have privately sponsored events as well, and they need to be able to sell their T-shirts and water bottles or whatever, but according to current code that isn't really allowed. It also says they get their permits from the mayor's office or CAPC, neither of which is correct. Permits come from the city clerk's office. There are just some things in code that are incorrect, and Planning feels they need to be changed."

City Clerk Ann Armstrong strongly urged Planning to allow department heads and others with specific expertise deal with the changes needed first. "I understand Planning's desire to clean up code," she said, "but I wish they would let the people who deal with it all the time, deal with it. I'm not trying to be rude."

She described the project as something best dealt with in a workshop.

Ballance expressed confusion. "Sometimes when issues like this come up, we are inclined to protect the brick and mortar people and don't want the peddlers," she said. "But during certain events, it's okay. But it's still kind of an affront to the brick and mortar people. Maybe we need to turn this over. Perhaps when we have city-approved events maybe the vendors need to subcontract from a brick and mortar establishment or put their wares on consignment in a local shop."

Alderman James DeVito said logistically don't know many merchants would want to do that. "When you get people in town, then you have a chance to sell your products," he said. "Festivals bring people here again and again. As far as the committee process is concerned, if it goes through a committee of people who deal with all these issues regularly, I agree."

In the end, council voted 4-3 (with Mayor Pate casting the tie-breaker) to have Armstrong bring them her list of suggestions for changes in city code by the next meeting, which will take place Oct. 8.

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