Planning approves new commercial construction code compliance review

Friday, January 25, 2013

At a meeting that got off to a late start but picked up steam quickly thereafter, Eureka Springs Planning Commission/Board of Zoning Adjustment approved on Tuesday its first commercial construction code compliance review when a local construction project had a change of plans.

Elaine Harden of Eureka Springs Treehouses 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 at the time.

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.

Construction has been held on up on cabins 11-13, which are to have a "castle" theme, so Harden came back to Planning to ask if they'd approve construction of three of the cabins further down on the list, which she described as "earth cottages." They will go back and do cabins 11-13 next winter.

Hobbit houses!

"They are 24-by-24 ft. structures built with 8-in. thick cement walls and a roof," Harden explained, "which are then lined with waterproof membrane. Then the structure is covered with earth and landscaped with grass, wildflowers and boulders. It is a wooded area, all really natural."

Harden added 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). Each unit allows a space and a half per unit, and the area already has the city-mandated "sky friendly" lighting in place.

Teaching moments

Commissioner Jim Morris brought to the table a request that the commission add an educational dimension to their meetings in future. "We have rules and procedures here at Planning on how we operate," Morris said. "Each time we have new people coming in, I feel we ought to go through to make sure everybody understands what we're doing, to avoid confusion."

Morris said he'd received feedback about a recent debate over a CUP approval in which some said the public did not get to express itself sufficiently. "It's very important that people understand what code says and what we're required to do," Morris said. "This isn't just our opinion or just public opinion. It's already preset in the code. Unless you can give evidence, not just opinion, that that would prove negative impact on the neighborhood by a CUP, as a commission we have to consider it seriously. It's not just a matter of how many are 'for' or 'against' something. There are multiple other factors involved. If you can say, 'It's negative and here's my proof!' then fine. Otherwise, we go by the law. A CUP is just as much a part of our code as zoning is, and I feel this is something we should make sure the public understands."

Morris stressed the importance of either showing up in person if you have something to bring to the table, or at least putting it in writing and sending it to the commission chairperson. "If somebody wants to say something about what we're doing, I tell them I can direct that information, and I'll listen to you all day long, but I can't and won't share opinion and information about an agenda item except at this table," Morrison said. "We're bound by law not to discuss these things unless it's at an open meeting. We don't want things happening behind the scenes."

Aldermen can fill in gaps

Commissioner Denys Flaherty brought up a point about lack of Planning commissioners. "I understand that if we are short a quorum, a member of City Council can be appointed to sit with us," she said. She added Alderman Mickey Schneider, formerly a Planning commissioner, had expressed interest in the position.

Chairman Beverly Blankenship agreed. "It is up to the mayor and council to approve, so yes, as long as it's a council member."

Finally, Planning scheduled a tree and landscape ordinance workshop, to take place at 5:00 on Feb. 12, an hour before its next regularly scheduled meeting, at 6:00.

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