Judge Buddy Villines

  • Judge Buddy Villines

Pulaski County released the latest amendments to the Lake Maumelle watershed land-use ordinance yesterday. The changes loosen the zoning regulations on land owners and developers.

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The Pulaski County Quorum Court tabled the original ordinance last December awaiting a report — finally released last week — from the United States Geological Service, even though that report was irrelevant to the matter at hand (leading to speculation that the Quorum Court was trying to buy time to figure out how to handle what had become a hot-button issue or perhaps giving lobbyists time to buy opposition to clean-water regulations).

The county first released a revised draft of the ordinance in May and followed up with the second revision released yesterday. Compared to the original ordinance from last December, the latest version reduces required open-space regulations for developers and eliminates the height restriction for single-family homes, among other changes.

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The changes to the ordinance, which will be taken up at the Quorum Court’s Dec. 18 meeting, were likely influenced by meetings Pulaski Country Judge Buddy Villines has had with property owners and other stakeholders over the course of the last year.

No comment so far from Deltic Timber, the El Dorado-based corporation which owns more than 10,000 acres of land in the watershed and shares a lobbyist with Koch Industries (the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity was also involved in fighting the ordinance a year ago).

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As for advocates of watershed protection, there is likely to be a divide between those who believe the ordinance is no longer strong enough and those willing to support it as the best available option.

I talked with Kate Althoff of Citizens Protecting Lake Maumelle Watershed, who stressed that she was speaking only as a private citizen. She said that she had not had time to thoroughly look at the latest draft but raised some general points:

I feel that it’s very important to compromise, very important to get all the information, discuss it, and try to find the middle ground. But we’ve gone way too far. This is definitely a development-weighted piece of legislation.

The reason water quality in Lake Maumelle is so pristine is because 90 percent of that watershed is either in timberland or native grass. And none of this protects one square foot of any of that. Not one square foot of the existing forest or prairie grass is protected. Why in the world can we not step up and find the political will to take care of the very thing that we know is working?

I think that the community, the 400,000 ratepayers, are being let down by Central Arkansas Water because they have not informed the legislative body of the county what is at issue. They have not pushed back.

You can read the full ordinance, marked with the latest revisions, here.

Below the jump, see a list of substantive changes made to zoning regulations since the Quorum Court tabled the original ordinance back in December 2011.

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