Maumelle: City Council report

The Maumelle City Council had a lengthy agenda and meeting this week, but I must say I’m really encouraged by the amount of discussion that takes place in our council meetings. While we don’t always agree on issues, we’re having a lot of good discussion prior to voting and that is very helpful to hear other thoughts on matters.

We started off by recognizing Jason Lyon as Maumelle’s employee of the month for October 2020 (we are still catching up on these recognitions due to virtual meetings last year). Jason has been with the city less than a year in our planning and permits department but has made an immediate impact in helping integrate these formerly separate departments and he’s bringing a greater use of technology into our city’s planning. We are glad to have him on Maumelle’s team!

Under old business, the council tabled an item related to a property rezoning along Commerce Drive to the east of Maumelle Blvd. This item will come back onto the agenda in August. Mayor Caleb Norris asked for the delay so our planning commission and council could evaluate some changes to our city code for allowed uses in certain commercial zoning areas. In the coming months, the Planning Commission and Council will review some code changes and then we’ll revisit the rezoning request in August.

An ordinance regulating short-term rentals (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.) was on third reading last night and failed by a vote of 2-6. I voted “no” on this ordinance and wanted to explain my thoughts. First of all, I think our city needs to eventually develop a framework for regulating short-term rentals (STR’s). This is an expanding industry in many areas, but in Maumelle, not so much. There are a number of websites that track STR’s and I used airdna.co to do research on the Maumelle market. In the past year, there were 6 homes that were available for rent and 6 private rooms that were available. That’s not to say there were 12 total availabilities all the time. This is just the number of rentals available over the course of the full year. At any given time, you might have 4-6 rentals available in the city. One of my concerns with the ordinance was the low capacity we were placing on occupancy for rentals. We would only allow 8 people no matter how large the home or how many bedrooms it had. I was prepared to make a motion to amend this and raise the capacity last night, but after hearing other council members speak, it was clear that others shared similar concerns about even enacting this ordinance right now. One of the things I learned by attending a recent Little Rock workshop on their STR ordinance, is that their Planning and Code departments have been heavily involved in crafting their ordinance with an emphasis on enforcement and regulating STR’s. They then designed their ordinance around how it would be implemented and managed on a day-to-day basis. After talking with Maumelle city staff over the last few weeks, a similar effort to think through how this would be managed from the city’s perspective had not been completed. That was really the primary reason I voted against this since I wasn’t comfortable passing a law for the city and then we’d figure out on the back end how to enforce and regulate STR’s. I think it’s important for that work to be done on the front end and then included in the crafting of the ordinance. Ultimately, Maumelle only has a handful of STR’s active at any given time so I didn’t see a pressing need to rush into this. Fayetteville, Little Rock, and Hot Springs on the other hand are large markets for STR’s and they are only beginning to figure out how to craft their ordinance. Fayetteville recently passed a version, but they put a 20-month sunset clause on it so they have to review it in that time period or it will expire. Since these larger markets are still figuring out the best way to regulate STR’s, I’d prefer Maumelle not rush into this and be one of the early adopters of regulations when our STR market is very small. I hope we’ll revisit this later when we see how other cities have handled the STR market. 

An ordinance expanding the allowance of private streets in Maumelle passed unanimously. Private streets were already allowed, but our code limited their use and developers had to get an exception for broader use. These exceptions have been granted in recent developments, so it made sense to change our code and expand the use of private streets.

An ordinance regarding the referendum and initiative process was on second reading this week. The version that was introduced only allowed 30 days for residents to gather petitions in case they wanted to hold a referendum on an issue. A motion was made to increase this to 90 days, which failed. A subsequent motion was made to increase this to 60 days, and that motion passed. A side effect of increasing the time to 60 days is that it will now take longer for our ordinances to go into effect once passed by the council. The council can always declare an emergency and have something go into effect sooner if needed, but we typically only declare an emergency in circumstances that are time-sensitive such as bond issues where interest rates change daily. I’m glad to see the referendum timeframe lengthened and would frankly have been fine with 90-days, even though I voted against that motion. I felt this length of time would bring our city government to a crawl if we had to wait 90 days for every passed ordinance to go into effect. Since it takes a month or two for an ordinance to get passed, you’d be looking at 4-5 months before changes would go into effect once they were proposed.

An ordinance removing the city from oversight of Bills of Assurance for property was on second reading. Due to a state law change, cities can no longer regulate appearance, size, architecture design, etc. of homes. That said, Property Owners Associations still have the right to regulate and enforce Bills of Assurance in neighborhoods that have deed restrictions on property. This ordinance brings the city in line with state law and leaves enforcement to the POA that regulates the Bill of Assurance for their neighborhood.

In new business, the council heard the first reading of a request to change the zoning of a property located on the northwest corner of Club Manor Drive and Carnahan. This property is currently zoned Institutional and a request has been made to zone this property Commercial. A companion ordinance also requested the Land Use change to Commercial-2. The property owner is in the final stages of completing residential homes in the neighboring Carnahan Village. If these changes pass in a few weeks, the property owner intends to build townhomes on this property. I think this will be a great change for the area since it will bring more residents into our downtown core. As a city, we have struggled to draw interest from commercial developers since we don’t have the population base or traffic count that commercial activity often requires. I would hope to see some more mixed-use areas proposed in the future where you have a combination of residential and commercial.

Lastly, the council approved a Preliminary Development Plan for the property we recently rezoned on the SE corner of Maumelle Blvd and Commerce Drive. This area will be built as a senior-living community with smaller homes and townhomes. The designs I’ve seen for this property look great, so I look forward to seeing this built out and think it will be a great addition to our city for those looking to retire and live in our community.

That’s it for the week. A lot of ground to cover, but it was a good meeting with a lot of discussion. 

As always, let me know if you have any questions. Chad 501-529-1336, chad4maumelle@gmail.com