In the Board of Directors’ agenda-setting meeting Tuesday afternoon, directors moved to add the Heights design overlay district ordinance and an ordinance allowing the city to immobilize cars with unpaid parking fines to the agenda of next Tuesday’s voting meeting. An ordinance to allow electric scooters to drive on streets was taken off the agenda for further edits.
Directors had several questions for Brian Minyard, a planner with the city planning commission, about the Heights tree ordinance that would create a design overlay district in the historic neighborhood. The ordinance would require single-family homeowners who apply for a construction or demolition permit — including new construction or additions larger than 600 square feet — and intend to remove one or more trees from their yards to plant or keep an existing 2.5-inches or greater caliper tree for every 40 feet of street fronting property before they can receive an occupancy permit.
The ordinance was passed unanimously by planning commission members at the April 26 meeting and has the recommendation of staff.
Ward 5 director Lance Hines moved to have the ordinance discussed separately from other grouped items on the agenda of next week’s meeting. He then shared his concerns with the ordinance, saying he hasn’t received “one positive call” about it and has “serious reservations about the design overlay district.”
“From the day after [the ordinance] was passed, I’ve gotten 5 or 6 phone calls a day from folks that own property in this area,” Hines said. “Anytime we go in and restrict somebody’s property rights, I take a very dim view of that. It’s their property. These people who are building new houses are not hurting property values, and somebody that’s going to build a new house, if they’re tearing one down, [they’re] not going to not put nice landscaping back in.”
At-large director Dean Kumpuris shared several questions from his constituents about the ordinance. When told by Minyard that homeowners who don’t plan on keeping existing trees would have to plant the required new trees before receiving a building permit, Kumpuris said this was “not practical,” as planting trees in hot summer months would kill the tree and require the homeowner to use additional funds to replace it.
The board also discussed an ordinance that would make amendments to a 2009 ordinance allowing the city to immobilize vehicles with unpaid parking fees through the use of a “boot” device. Jon Honeywell, director of Public Works, said the update clarifies “when tickets are applicable to the booting ordinance and how long that timeframe needs to be before they become eligible for a booting list.”
At-large director Joan Adcock asked Honeywell for an updated list of how many people owe parking fines to the city, the limits of their fines, and how long the tickets have been unpaid. Honeywell said only people who, within the past three years, have parking fines that total $250 or more and have not paid these fines in 30 days or more are eligible to be booted.
Honeywell added that currently, there are over 400 people on a list of those who fit all of these infractions, with a cumulative total of around $278,000 in fines. One individual on the list has 212 tickets, totaling an excess of $10,000 in unpaid parking fines.
Both ordinances will be up for a vote at next week’s meeting, which starts at 6 p.m.
Directors also discussed a resolution that would allow the city to contract with Razor Cut Lawn, a Jacksonville-based lawn care company, for mowing services at 30 of the city’s 63 parks and the city’s six community centers. The contract would not exceed $108,490 and last for one year, and the company would mow the parks once a week during the growing season, which is from late April to late September. After that, the company would mow once every two weeks. The city’s current ground maintenance crew would mow the remaining 33 parks, and it would also still provide additional landscape support, such as pruning shrubs or attending to flower beds.
Several directors asked whether any Little Rock-based companies had bid on the contract, and Parks Director John Eckart said of the eight bids the department received for the contract, several were from Little Rock companies, but Razor Cut Lawn had the lowest bid. He also said the bid was advertised in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for a few weeks and posted on the city’s online bidding portal and website.
“I really think we need to hold up, because [there is] too much happening in that department that I’m not pleased with,” Ward 1 Director Erma Hendrix said.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. told directors that he and City Manager Bruce Moore would look into increasing “preferential treatment” for Little Rock companies in contracts the city bids out. Moore added that after the city passed its 3/8 sales tax to fund capital upgrades in 2011, the board passed an ordinance that would allow the city to give preferential “points” to Little Rock businesses. This lasted for about 8 months, but Moore said adjacent cities, including Conway and North Little Rock, said they would adopt similar policies. Little Rock companies then “felt they would be at a disadvantage” for business in those cities, so the board appealed it.
Scott told directors he and Moore would provide the board with a “lay of the land” on the city’s bidding process and how it takes into account Little Rock bidders, but with the understanding that “we don’t want to hurt other companies who do business and have had long-standing business relationships with the city that are contiguous with the city as well.”
“We’ll come back with something realistic, reasonable and business friendly as well as cost-efficient,” Scott said. “We had eight bids and we [chose] the lowest bidder, and in times of fiscal stewardship, we need to make sure we go with the most cost effective [option].”
An ordinance that would require electric scooters to be driven on streets — the city currently requires them to be driven exclusively on sidewalks — and set a maximum speed limit of 15 mph while riding was removed from the agenda for further edits.
Several freshman football and basketball players from Arkansas Baptist College attended the board meeting for extra credit. Scott recognized them for their work, and Hendrix added that she’s an alum of the college.