The action of the Planning Commission raises questions
The conditional use application that the Hot Springs Planning Commission unanimously approved for the Covenant Recovery Residential Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center on Linden Street may have included items prohibited by the Code of zoning, city officials said Tuesday.
In March, the planning commission granted the nonprofit Pine Bluff conditional use allowing the facility to house up to 48 residents, prompting an appeal from the president of the Whittington Valley Neighborhood Association. , Mark A. Toth. The Hot Springs board’s 3-3 vote at its May 4 business meeting overturned the planning committee’s action.
His 4-2 vote at his June 15 business meeting authorized a rehearing of the appeal on Tuesday evening. A 4-2 vote on Tuesday night sent the request back to the planning committee for further consideration.
A letter from Covenant Recovery founder and director Jeremy McKenzie, included in support of the nonprofit organization’s request, said it intended to license the 10,000 square foot building with Arkansas Department of Community Corrections.
“Quapaw House was operating this facility under guidelines set by the Department of Social Services’ Behavioral Health Social Services Division, as well as Arkansas Community Corrections,” the February 5 letter said. “Covenant Recovery is currently in the process of obtaining licenses from the two aforementioned state agencies. “
City Attorney Brian Albright told the board on Tuesday that facilities licensed by the state agency that oversees probationers and parolees are not permitted as licensed or conditional use in the areas zoned for residential activities and in most areas zoned for commercial activities.
Covenant Recovery’s 4-acre campus at 276 Linden St. is zoned Office / Commercial District, or C-3. It is surrounded by low density residential neighborhoods, or R-3s. Heavy Manufacturing Zones, or M-2, are the only areas where correctional facilities are permitted, according to the Zoning Code’s Table of Uses.
“If it is in any way a correctional facility that requires a license under state law for transitional life, it is simply not allowed in our table of uses.” , said Albright. “If it’s correctional in any form, it’s just not allowed.”
Planning and Development Director Kathy Sellman told council the nature of the proposed activity for the site was not clear when the planning commission approved the request.
“During a recent conversation with the city attorney, it emerged that some of the proposed activities are characteristic of something that would be a halfway house type operation,” she said. “It wasn’t clear at first.”
McKenzie told the board on Tuesday that his plan has changed since the planning commission approved conditional use in March.
“We applied to run a facility that was going to be accredited by DHS, which we have already requested, along with a request for transitional housing,” he said. “We have talked about it right here in this room. It was approved unanimously by the planning committee.
“Be clear, since that time, and since we’ve received so much feedback from the community, we’ve been forced to change the level of service we have there. Since we had so much reluctance from the community about transitional housing and about court dates and inmates, we only moved to the Behavioral Health Division. It would be the only license we have there. I accept that you put a stipulation on where we can never change this. “
The council refused to impose the stipulation, deferring to the planning commission. Mayor Pat McCabe said the proposed activity for the site must be summarized in a one-page document that explicitly states which agencies would allow the facility.
“There has to be some assurance as to the scope of the program,” he said. “(The request) has to go through a certain process, so when we approve or disapprove, we actually know, very succinctly, what action to take. I think the planning board is the best choice to deal with this problem. “
District 1 director Erin Holliday told council she could approve changes to the request, including a stipulation prohibiting the facility from housing probationers and parolees. She and District 2 Director Elaine Jones voted against the motion to refer the application.
“I think the planning is going to kick the box frankly,” said Holliday, whose neighborhood includes the Linden Street property. “We will hear this again in 60 days. If there is a solution that we can come to based on the testimony given tonight, I want to be solution oriented and move forward on our behalf, the neighborhood, the community and try to find the best solution for everyone.
“Planning is going to hear everything we’ve heard. It’s just going to keep adding chapters to these documents, or we can put in writing whatever conditions we can legally put in place based on the code.”
A dozen people addressed the council at Tuesday’s hearing, but many more were waiting in the lobby of Town Hall when District 4 Director Carroll Weatherford offered to return the request to the town planning commission. Most of those who spoke opposed the requested extension of the occupation for the property.
“I want to apologize to everyone who signed up for both pro and con and couldn’t address the council tonight,” McCabe said. ” Thanks for your presence. “
Jeremy McKenzie, Founder and Director of Covenant Recovery, addresses the Hot Springs Board of Directors at City Hall on Tuesday. – Photo by Tanner Newton of The Sentinel-Record