Planning approves treehouses, debates master plan

Saturday, September 29, 2012

In its meeting Tuesday night, The Eureka Springs Planning Commission/Board of Zoning Adjustment approved the second phase of construction for Eureka Springs Treehouses.

Co-owner Elaine Harden had originally approached the commission with a plan for 20 units in 2006. Ten were built in the first phase. "As part of the next phase, we are adding three more cabins," she said.

Located at 3018 East Van Buren Avenue, each cabin is differently themed. There is a "New York City" room, for example, a "Venice" room, a "Santa Fe" room, etc.

Harden explained all the infrastructure for the cabins was already in place. The area, zoned C-2 ("Contemporary Commercial") allows tourist lodging without a Conditional Use Permit (CUP).

"We allow one and a half parking spaces for each unit," Harden explained. "The setback to the rear is 117 feet, and there is 30 to 64 feet between units. We are looking for privacy for our customers here."

The site has no signage since its business is all done by internet.

Harden said this construction phase was scheduled to begin the first of November and continue through April. All 20 units are scheduled to be complete by the end of 2013.

Planning approved the request to begin the second phase of construction 5-0.

The master plan

"The smaller your master plan is, the easier it is to administer."

This was one message taken from Planning Commissioner training workshop attended recently by all Planning commissioners.

"Six pages is a good length for a master plan," said Commissioner James Morris. A "master plan" is a document which describes a vision for the city's future. "Keep it simple. It should cover zoning, streets, future development. That's it. Add the other stuff you want to later on. One city has a two-page master plan. Every city code they had was written off that. You have an issue to examine. Does it fit the master plan? If yes, then okay. If not, not."

Blankenship said Eureka's master plan, in fact a lesser document called a "vision plan" which nonetheless has been officially adopted by the city, contains a lot of historical information "up front" to give context for the actual "master plan" information at the end.

"It tells you about the struggles between the highway and downtown," she said, "and a lot of other information many of us already know, but they included it so when you got to the back, you could see where they were coming from. The master plan really is the last 10 pages of the document at most."

Blankenship encouraged commissioners to continue to review the existing body of code and get it up to speed. "That's why we do some of the things we do," she said, laughing. "I don't just make this stuff up. Take it home and read it. If we need to revise it, fine. If it makes sense, that's good. We can tweak it if we need to. But to do a whole new master plan probably cannot happen. They told us at the training seminar that everybody in the city has to buy in and be on board when you do a new master plan, that it can't just come from one side or the other. I don't think we can do that here."

In other business, Planning voted to send on to City Council its recommended changes in code involving outdoor sales, which has been in the works for months, as well as its 2013 request for funding.

"I summarized what we all discussed last meeting," Blankenship said. "I went ahead and asked for funding for a city planner, because as we discussed, a planning expert would allow us to do a much better job. I asked at the very least for someone to come to meetings to consult with us and help us prioritize and plan."

Blankenship also touched on a recent request from City Council to provide a list of all encroachments on city property by private property owners, past and future. "I told them we needed both clarification of what they specifically want, and funding to pay for it," she said. "They then asked us for a written report explaining what I'd just told them, so we them sent them a copy of our last Planning meeting's minutes. So that's covered."

The next Planning meeting will be October 9.

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