Pro­ce­dure in ques­tion for devel­op­ment OK

Zon­ing panel weighs down­town block project

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - NOEL OMAN

A planned res­i­den­tial devel­op­ment near down­town Lit­tle Rock has the back­ing of the Capi­tol Zon­ing Dis­trict Com­mis­sion staff to move for­ward, but a devel­oper be­hind the $5 mil­lion project said she fears it won’t get off the ground if the com­mis­sion doesn’t stream­line its ap­proval process.

At is­sue is a 16- house devel­op­ment pro­posed on a mostly va­cant city block bounded by South Gaines and South Arch streets and West 15th and West 16th streets.

Devel­op­ment in the area is con­trolled by the Capi­tol Zon­ing Dis­trict Com­mis­sion, which was cre­ated by the Leg­is­la­ture to pro­tect the his­toric and ar­chi­tec­turally sig­nif­i­cant struc­tures in the vicin­ity of the state Capi­tol and the Gov­er­nor’s Man­sion and to “en­cour­age com­pat­i­ble devel­op­ment within the dis­trict.”

The com­mis­sion staff said the pro­posal seems to be a good fit for the dis­trict but has stopped short of an en­dorse­ment, and rec­om­mended the “com­mis­sion ini­ti­ate the rule-mak­ing process and re­lease the pro­posal for pub­lic com­ment.”

The com­mis­sion will con­sider the rec­om­men­da­tion at its monthly meet­ing Thurs­day. The Man­sion Area Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, an arm of the com­mis­sion, re­viewed the pro­posal last week and voted to rec­om­mend the rule­mak­ing process be­gin for the project.

Mean­while, Carol Wor­ley has in­vited area res­i­dents and prop­erty own­ers to a meet­ing at 6 p.m. Mon­day at Raduno Brick Oven and Bar­room Restau­rant at 1318 Main St. to get a “sneak peek at our new devel­op­ment plans.”

Wor­ley said that be­cause her devel­op­ment is a planned zone devel­op­ment that the com­mis­sion’s cur­rent rules

● don’t ad­dress as part of its or­di­nary ap­pli­ca­tion process, the com­mis­sion should de­fer the pro­posal to the city of Lit­tle Rock for fi­nal ap­proval.

The com­mis­sion staff rec­om­men­da­tion to go through the rule-mak­ing process is too lengthy and should ad­dress fu­ture ap­pli­ca­tions, Wor­ley said.

In an in­ter­view last week, Wor­ley said she will “guar­an­tee if we have to sit for four years, it isn’t go­ing to be built. We’ll move on to some­thing else.”

The com­mis­sion’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, Boyd Ma­her, ex­pressed sur­prise that the process would take any longer than three months.

“Have mercy, I cer­tainly hope not,” he said when asked if the process would take three years or more. “That would be a lot of work for me.”

The com­mis­sion can­not “kick it to the city of Lit­tle Rock,” Ma­her added. “Our agency is the ex­clu­sive zon­ing agency for the neigh­bor­hood. That would be like Lit­tle Rock re-zon­ing prop­erty in Ben­ton.”

The block in ques­tion is over­grown with weeds and brush, but its his­tory in­cludes what the com­mis­sion staff de­scribes as a “wide va­ri­ety of uses” dat­ing to the Civil War, when a Union fort oc­cu­pied part of the prop­erty.

As late as 1950, an ice cream fac­tory, a row of store­fronts, a ser­vice sta­tion and sev­eral houses were on the

block, ac­cord­ing to the re­port by Ma­her.

For­mer build­ings on the Gaines Street side in­cluded the King Build­ing, which housed a laun­dro­mat down­stairs and apart­ments up­stairs, and the Dick­son Build­ing, which housed three com­mer­cial store­fronts at the south­west cor­ner of the block, the re­port said.

Those build­ings as well as five other garages and out­build­ings from the Arch Street side were re­moved between 1950 and 2000.

Gaines Street Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church bought the block in 1998, by which time just two struc­tures re­mained — a for­mer Church of Christ build­ing con­structed in 1959 and a small house on 15th Street, the re­port said.

Gaines Street Mis­sion­ary

Bap­tist used the Church of Christ build­ing for class­rooms and a com­mu­nity cen­ter be­fore leas­ing it to sev­eral other con­gre­ga­tions. The house was used as a church of­fice and res­i­den­tial rental.

Cassie Toro ac­quired the prop­erty in 2014 and re­moved the re­main­ing struc­tures.

Wor­ley teamed with Toro, who is on the Capi­tol Dis­trict Zon­ing Com­mis­sion but won’t par­tic­i­pate in the dis­cus­sion or vote on the pro­posal, to de­velop the project.

“Cassie and I are good friends,” Wor­ley said. “We are just two peo­ple who like to de­velop things. We both want to make the neigh­bor­hood bet­ter. Hav­ing 16 more fam­i­lies will in­crease the tax base and will in­crease [prop­erty] values.”

The pro­posal en­vi­sions

build­ing up to six houses fac­ing Arch Street. On the Gaines Street side will be four smaller houses and three houses each fac­ing 15th and 16th streets. The houses would back into a shared green space.

Wor­ley es­ti­mates the houses would range from 1,200 square feet to 3,500 square feet. Price es­ti­mates are pre­ma­ture, she said.

The dif­fer­ent-size houses would en­sure that peo­ple in dif­fer­ent so­cioe­co­nomic brack­ets would be able to af­ford to buy a house in the devel­op­ment, Wor­ley said.

As homage to the fort, Wor­ley and Toro have ten­ta­tively named the devel­op­ment, Fort Steele Com­mons.

Fort Steele was built in 1863 fol­low­ing the cap­ture of Lit­tle Rock by Union forces led by Maj. Gen. Fred­er­ick Steele.

De­scribed as a “square re­doubt,” which are earth­work for­ti­fi­ca­tions built out­side a larger fort, Fort Steele “be­came the cen­tral point in a net­work of bat­ter­ies and ri­fle pits built to de­fend Lit­tle Rock from Con­fed­er­ate at­tack,” ac­cord­ing to the Arkansas Civil War Sesqui­cen­ten­nial Com­mis­sion. “The fort, bristling with can­non and manned by vet­eran Union in­fantry­men, ap­par­ently did its job well, as Con­fed­er­ate forces never mounted an of­fen­sive to re­take Lit­tle Rock.”

A his­toric marker com­mem­o­rat­ing the fort was in­stalled near the south­west cor­ner of the block, at 16th and Gaines streets, in 2013, but no per­mit had been is­sued for it, ac­cord­ing to Ma­her’s re­port.

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