A resolution before the City Board tonight to enter into a $75,770 contract with the Nelson/Nygaard transportation planning firm looked like it was going to be a car wreck for Mayor Stodola, whose idea it was to hire a consultant. Several board members — including Lance Hines, Kathy Webb and Ken Richardson — expressed surprise that what was before them was a resolution to hire a firm, rather than hire an urban planner for the staff and Webb and Director Irma Hendrix questioned the cost.

In all fairness, Stodola’s first mention of hiring an urban planner did sound like he wanted a staff member. But several board meetings ago, City Manager Bruce Moore explained that the city had issued a request for proposals and was in negotiations with a planner, which indicated the city was talking about a firm. 

Hines’ objections were to be expected. He is a supporter of the state Highway and Transportation’s proposal for a mid-century-style 10-lane I-30 through downtown Little Rock, and he asked why the city was hiring a consultant to look at information that has already been considered by the AHTD and Metroplan. He also said he didn’t understand the plan. “What does ‘key stakeholders’ mean?” he asked, referring to Nelson/Nygaard’s Scope of Work saying they will interview up to 15 people, including developers, city officials and “cultural representatives” to “understand the role of downtown.” And because the consultants have 90 days to complete their study, that comes too late in the AHTD schedule and the city’s own decision to debate in April a resolution asking the AHTD to reconsider its plans, Hines said.

Webb, noting that she and Hines don’t see eye to eye on his approval of the I-30 plan, said that like Hines she had not understood that the city was hiring a firm rather than creating a staff position. She also said the cost seemed extraordinarily high compared to other planning firm estimates she’d heard. Stodola replied that they could have responded to the city’s RFP if they wanted the job.

After the kvetching was over, Stodola told the board that the city needed expert advice before it makes decisions that could impact Little Rock for the next 50 years.

The resolution passed 8 to 2 initially, but Directors Hendrix and Richardson later changed their votes to “aye.”

Director Doris Wright’s proposal to call a moratorium on multifamily development north of Bowman Road passed, but only after it was amended not to apply to any projects that have already gone to city planners. The moratorium was intended to delay a multi-use development by Keith Richardson (no relation to Ken Richardson) that would have put 400 apartments next to Brodie Creek. Director Dean Kumpuris warned it would create a “dangerous precedent” to call a halt to projects as they were going through the city planning process.

Ann Marshall, formerly the head of Little Rock’s Office of Desegregation, now defunct, was one of several speakers who asked directors to make a serious examination of the impacts of development in the west. The resolution says the city will not consider new multifamily development along Bowman (see the resolution for the specific area) for a year to study traffic, drainage issues and recommend needed land use changes.

Richardson’s application will come before the city board March 1. The amended moratorium will not apply to it.