SB170, sponsored by Sen. Bart Hester of Cave Springs, passed the state Senate and was referred to the House of Representatives’s committee on city, county and local affairs on Wednesday.
The proposal would limit county and municipal regulations of residential building design elements. Sen. Hester said it provides affirmation to homeowners.
"When you pay the mortgage, you have the right to design the house the way you see fit as long as you comply with safety standards," he said.
The proposal has some city leaders concerned.
The Conway Area Chamber of Commerce announced it “is officially opposed to Arkansas Senate Bill 170 sponsored by Senator Bart Hester. The bill would take away all cities' ability to regulate the design of any residential buildings beyond life safety standards.”
The announcement went on to say that other local officials oppose the bill and that they are trying to ensure it doesn’t pass.
“Mayor Bart Castleberry, Sen. Jason Rapert, Rep. Spencer Hawks, and Rep. Steve Magie are all opposed to the bill and are working with the chamber to prevent it moving forward,” Chamber officials said.
Sen. Hester told the Log Cabin Democrat he wasn't surprised by the opposition the bill has received.
"The government's position is always 'Let us take care of you,'" he said. "The people of Arkansas are perfectly capable of choosing the color of their house, choosing whether their house is vinyl or brick. The people of Arkansas are perfectly capable of making those decisions for themselves."
City Planner James Walden said the bill would affect several areas when it comes to planning.
One example he gave was the Old Conway Design Overlay District.
“We’ve seen a lot of strides in that area with new investments,” Walden told the Log Cabin Democrat. “A lot of that is the result of those regulations [that the bill would end] because it assures property owners that nobody will come in and build something that will lower property values.”
Another example he gave was planned unit developments (PUDs).
“It would take away some of the protections we have with PUDs,” he said, noting that PUD developers will often work with homeowners in the area to alleviate concerns they have such as second-story windows not being translucent, etc. “If a developer violated [the compromises], the city couldn’t do anything to enforce it.”
Walden said the city doesn’t currently have a design code and if SB170 passes, it would prevent the city from having one in the future.
“It goes way beyond concerns that have been raised about whether the city should regulate vinyl siding,” Walden said.
Walden said his office and others are working to stop the bill from passing.
“We are working with the Arkansas Municipal League and our local representatives to address our concerns to ensure Conway residents are protected,” he said.
The bill passed the Senate 23-11-1 with Sen. Bill Sample of Hot Springs abstaining. Sen. Hester said he expects the House to vote on SB170 next week, likely Tuesday or Thursday.
To read the bill, visit http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2019/2019R/Bills/SB170.pdf.