A neighborhood delegation asked the Planning Commission for help in addressing increasing incursions of tourist lodging into their peaceful part of town.
The July 13 meeting began with public comments from residents of the Oakridge Drive area. Laura Covington said she has lived here 40 years, 20 of those years on Oakridge. She listed some other streets in her neighborhood, and said most of those streets are dead ends, with an older population. She asked commissioners to keep the area free of Airbnb operations, “to keep this small neighborhood from becoming a commercial nightmare. And it’s already begun.”
Melinda Large mentioned a specific property on Oakridge, and said the owners had originally hoped to flip the property, but they had begun renting it to “musical vagrants.”
Steve Beacham described the Oakridge area as “pristine,” and said the house to which Large referred advertises on a website, and the pictures on that site conceal location of the house. He warned that other second homes could follow the same path and called it a “serious issue.”
Other commenters mentioned a property on Huckleberry Lane. The owners of that property had applied unsuccessfully for a Conditional Use Permit, and when that was denied, they simply listed on Airbnb. A neighbor to that property described tenants speeding through the neighborhood.
Commissioner Fergie Stewart said he lives in that neighborhood, and had brought this issue to the table months ago. He said cars race through the neighborhood “in the wee hours,” and this has only occurred in the past year.
During subsequent discussion, commissioners explained that residents would still need to have a CUP before offering tourist lodging, even if they only listed on Airbnb. However, Chair Ann Tandy-Sallee said the commission is still awaiting an opinion from the city attorney about how to respond. She will also request the attorney’s opinion on imposing a six-month moratorium on new CUPs in R-2 zones.
In other business:
- Parking, or the lack of it, has become an urgent topic for the commission in recent months. A workshop was planned for July 20 to address the subject.
- A proposed ordinance to clarify language in city codes regarding B&B operations is ready for presentation to city council. Commissioners made one last change, deleting a line that said the operator must live there when the business is operating. Instead, the proposed ordinance will say the operator must reside on site. That language would still allow B & B owners to take vacations or otherwise leave the property. Recent discussions on parking have brought out another reason for requiring owners to reside at the property, because visitors may not understand the importance of using designated off-street parking.
- Commissioner Fergie Stewart has been working on improving Internet service for the city and surrounding areas. He encouraged everyone to go to speedtest.arkansas.gov to test connection speeds. He said the information will help the state determine areas needing improvement.
- Commissioners approved an addition of 124 sq. ft. at 4036 E. Van Buren. Commissioner Tom Buford said the application was well done, and he had visited the site, adding that the property “has been an eyesore. I’m glad to see this happening.”