Council grapples with Code conflicts


Before council had its turn at proposed ordinances at Monday’s meeting, citizens spoke up. John Speed said he was relatively new to the B&B business and Code compliance, and had noticed there might be potential conflicts of interest if aldermen or Planning commissioners made decisions by which they might benefit. He called it “Ethics 101,” and the results might not be fair or just to other B&B owners. He also cited “haphazard enforcement” of Code.

Bob Jasinski called it a “draconian process” a potential new owner must go through to purchase a B&B in Eureka Springs. He claimed some of them choose not to go through the ordeal and leave town instead. He said those who drafted existing City Code knew what they were doing because they followed the language of State Code. He also disagreed with the way some B&B owners are granted variances.

Susan Misavage commented other cities emphasize compliance over punishment and allow for prompt and voluntary corrections. She said in her 13 years in the business, she invested all her savings and energy into her B&B, and the regulations she has dealt with were overkill. She stated the city should enforce existing laws instead of making new ones. She pointed out that B&Bs bring revenue to city coffers. She urged aldermen, “Do the right thing.”

David Gallia was also concerned about the perception of conflicts of interest among aldermen and Planning commissioners. He wondered if these decisions might not drive others out of business while benefitting those who make the decisions. He said there might be votes in which aldermen should choose to recuse themselves.

Barb Gavron noted she has seen the process regarding B&Bs repeat itself every two years instead of something positive happening. She said real estate values are negatively affected, which turns away prospective newcomers. Part of the problem is some lodgings are called B&Bs but do not comply with the requirements of B&Bs, and the city gets negative press. Same issues surface over and over, and nothing has changed.

Roger Muterspaugh wanted the city to clarify the 200-ft. rule regarding proximity of CUPs to one another. He claimed he was given conflicting answers when he asked for clarity about the laws.

Faryl and Zoie Kaye submitted a letter citing a recurring theme of restrictions on B&B owners, and they proposed instead that city hall acknowledge the contributions of B&Bs to the community. They mentioned the $10,000 they spend on advertising to attract visitors to town, plus what they pay in local taxes and the local tradesmen they hire. Also because of “the constant harassment,” properties are more difficult to sell. They noted potential conflicts of interest among aldermen who might be making decisions that affect B&B owners, and they asked for “this continuous harassment of our business sector to stop.”

When council had its turn, alderman Mickey Schneider asked City Attorney Tim Weaver to explain if conflicts of interest had any bearing on any of the ordinances they were considering. Weaver replied that according to Arkansas law, city council or a commission as a whole does not have the ability to call a conflict of interest. It is up to the individual to point out a potential conflict of interest, which would mean the person or a close relative might receive a monetary gain or benefit from a vote. He said council might ask a court for a review, but it cannot prevent a person from voting.

Schneider said it is therefore up to each person to do the right thing. She also noted in a small town such as Eureka Springs it might be difficult to have a city council or commission without a lodging owner.

Right away, alderman David Mitchell, owner of Heart of the Hills B&B, borrowed language from the Kayes’ letter stating he spent $5000 a year on advertising to bring people to town, paid taxes and hired locals as he had to do to run his business. “I have no conflict of interest,” he said.

Alderman Bob Thomas then said he had recently entered the lodging business, but because some of the ordinances have nebulous language, he might recuse himself on some but not all of the votes. As it turned out, no recusals were required.

Ord. 2270 was to amend sections of Code regarding the R-1 Victorian Residential zone, and alderman Kristi Kendrick objected to it because she claimed an ordinance should address only one subject, and this one addressed three. She also did not understand what “register” meant in the sentence, “An owner or resident manager shall occupy the premises and register the establishment as their primary domicile.”

Weaver said the ordinance was consistent with ordinances council has passed in the past few years because it dealt with one particular section of Code, although he also admitted he was not sure what “register” meant in this context.

Alderman Melissa Greene said she remembered “residing on site” was what Planning had decided upon, not “register.”

More wrangling about wording and intent ensued until Mitchell moved to defer any decisions and send the ordinance back to Planning for clarification. Schneider recommended a workshop to get public input, and Planning Chair Ann Sallee replied they tried that and no one came.

The vote to approve Mitchell’s motion was 5-0.

Ord. 2272 regarding Planned Use Development was treated similarly. Kendrick moved to amend one section, but aldermen were unclear what the result would have been, so Mitchell moved to defer so Planning could sort out what Kendrick intended. Vote to approve his motion was 5-0.

A fifth yet unnumbered ordinance focusing on updates for Code regarding B&Bs in the R-2 zone was also deferred. Kendrick cited the same reasons she had for Ord. 2270, and vote on her motion was unanimous.