Council approves $100,000 Auditorium repair, extends weekly rental moratorium

Thursday, October 11, 2012

In a long meeting full of sharp words and a hefty agenda, Eureka Springs City Council agreed Monday night to buy new heat pumps for the Auditorium and to require new construction projects in commercial zones to go through the Planning commission for approval as part of the application process.

CAPC Special Events Coordinator Ray Dilfield appeared before the council to explain the situation with the heating system. "As you know," he said, "the heat exchangers in the Auditorium have turned to swiss cheese, whether because of age or water quality. We have no heat currently in the building except for a small gas furnace in the basement. We've had it running constantly the past few days to try to keep minimal heat in the building."

Dilfield compared the heat exchangers to enormous car radiators and said in the last year both had needed repair but were too worn out to fix.

"We contacted a number of contractors before finding one who would consider the job," he said. "In the process of examining the hot water system [the boiler that heats the water to heat the air to heat the building], they discovered a number of code violations from when the original boiler was installed. So over and above fixing the system, we have to bring it all into compliance."

Dilfield said for $74,589, the old system could be removed and a new system installed.

Alderman Karen Lindblad suggested the funds be taken from the CAPC's budget, citing state statute requiring a city's CAPC to maintain tourist promotion facilities.

Alderman James DeVito, who is also a CAPC commissioner, objected vigorously. "The CAPC has no reserves, but the city does," he said. "When you take away the resources form the engine that is driving our economy, you will hinder their ability to generate more revenue."

Lindblad responded charging the CAPC with the repairs "might be a good move because the state says it is." She explained the improved tax revenues as being the result of food prices going up. "I really get tired of the CAPC [saying] all they're supposed to be doing is advertising, with really not much responsibility for the Auditorium, even though the state says they are," she said.

Devito argued time was of the essence in fixing the problem regardless of who paid for what. "If we don't get the ball moving, we have a problem," he said. "Shows are scheduled and there is no heat. We are responsible to those bookings. At the end of the year we can re-distribute funds if we need to, but now we just need to get it fixed."

Assured by Eureka Springs Finance Director Lonnie Clark that the city had enough money in its emergency fund to cover the cost of the repairs, Alderman Ken Pownall made a motion for two resolutions, one to waive competitive bidding on the repairs in the interest of time, and one to put $100,000 toward repair of the Auditorium. The extra $25,411 would go toward bringing the building back into code and other incidental fees and costs.

Planning ordinance proceeds

By a 5-1 vote, council assigned a number to an ordinance requested by the Planning commission. Ordinance #2161 amends the process by which permits are issued for construction, demolition, and other similar activity in commercial zones.

In addition to requiring a building permit through Eureka's Building Inspector Bobby Ray, applicants must submit their requests to Planning for consideration.

Only Alderman Butch Berry, an architect, disagreed with the ordinance. "Reviewing architectural plans for conformity to building codes is something the commissioners on Planning won't necessarily be qualified to do, as a rule," Berry said. "But the building inspector does know. That's why everything goes to Bobby Ray. So he can review it against code. Planning can review for appropriateness and so forth within their guidelines, but not the rest."

The proposed ordinance will undergo two more readings before the vote is actually taken to make it law.

Business license moratorium extended

Council continued debating the issue of weekly rentals in residential areas. A moratorium on issuing new business licenses for rentals, until council can resolve the specifics of the issue, was due to expire Oct. 22.

Commissioner Lany Ballance expressed her concern for people in need of such lodging facilities. "A lot of people do weekly rentals to 'try out' Eureka Springs to see if they want to move here permanently," she said. "Or there are laborers who just need a temporary place. There are several reasons for weekly rentals to exist, and these people asked me to bring their concerns forward."

Lindblad argued against these rentals. "My constituents have a right not to have these things in their neighborhoods," she said. "People want to know their neighbors, not live next door to something that is basically like a motel. I don't know that we have a shortage of weekly rentals in town at all."

In the end, council agreed to extend the moratorium another 60 days, to give them further time to work the issue out.

Other business

After long debate, City Council members voted 5-1 to ask the chief of police to appear before them at the next meeting to discuss his budget for his staff and explain the minimum number of officers he needed to do the job.

The next City Council meeting will be Oct. 22.

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