ES council defers proposed changes to tree ordinance

Friday, March 13, 2020

By Samantha Jones

The Eureka Springs City Council needs a little more time to think about some proposed changes to the tree preservation ordinance.

On Monday night, the council heard from planning commission chairwoman LauraJo Smole about the proposed changes. Smole said the proposed changes would make the ordinance much more reflective of terminology used today, as well as current theories and practices about tree preservation.

“We’re bringing them in in a way that we felt would help our community,” Smole said.

Another reason for the proposed changes, Smole said, is to consider the implications of new construction.

“We’re getting a bit of a construction boom,” Smole said. “It’s easier to get organized ahead of it than trying to catch up with something that’s happening and you don’t have effective law to do that with.”

Smole said the commission reprinted the proposed changes after Mayor Butch Berry asked for a copy that specifies which portions of the ordinance would be changed and which portions would remain the same. The newest copy was sent through email last week, Smole said.

“What was so wrong with the old ordinance?” asked council member Terry McClung.

Planning commissioner Tom Buford said the ordinance makes reference to cutting down a tree if it’s more than 50 years old, but that’s difficult to determine.

“Well, we can’t really tell how old a 50-year-old tree is unless someone brings a picture in saying this is 1905 and this is the tree,” Buford said.

There isn’t a section in the ordinance about replacing trees, either.

“If you want to cut a tree down, plant two more trees,” Buford said.

Smole said the latest subdivision being built on Pivot Rock Road meant lots of trees were cut down.

“Just because of his generosity … the owner is going to be replanting 200 trees next spring after the construction is completed,” Smole said. “That is something that wouldn’t be required in any way.”

Council member Bob Thomas said the council has received three versions of the ordinance: a version with the proposed changes, an annotated version and a compacted version.

“I think it’s inappropriate to ask this council to discuss something when there’s three different versions,” Thomas said.

“Well, we weren’t aware of the compacted version,” Smole said, “and the annotated version was done at the request of the mayor.”

“Right now, we have three in existence and this is obviously confusing some of the people at the table,” Thomas said. “I think it’s inappropriate to ask us to look at it.”

Berry said there is no compacted version.

“This annotated version is the same version that was sent out that we had compared to this,” Berry said.

The council agreed to keep discussing the proposed changes at the planning commission’s meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, at the Auditorium.

The council moved on to hear from Thomas about having three commission quarterly reports on the agenda. Thomas suggested having the quarterly reports on the agenda for the second meeting of the month in April, July, October and January.

“Can we schedule something in 2021?” Thomas asked city attorney Tim Weaver.

“You can schedule it,” Weaver said, “and it can later be changed by the council.”

Thomas requested to see reports from the CAPC, parks commission and cemetery commission. Council member Susan Harman asked if the hospital commission could be included and Berry said he wasn’t sure about that.

“The hospital is going to be separate. We wouldn’t be able to do it at this point in time because of the transition,” Berry said, “and also let me just work with the hospital because that’s a separate entity totally. Let’s leave it with the three Mr. Thomas has suggested.”

Council member Mickey Schneider asked if the reports would be written and Berry said that’s what would happen. Harman said she wants someone from the commissions to be available at the meeting to discuss the reports.

“Yeah, we’ll have somebody here,” Berry said.

Thomas moved to put the commission reports on the agenda quarterly and the commission unanimously agreed to do so.

Also at the meeting, council member Harry Meyer asked if the police and fire chief could come to the council meetings monthly to discuss their reports.

“We need to know what’s going on with our tax dollars. We should have a monthly report from every single department that’s spending our tax dollars,” Meyer said, “and the department head should be here. We provide them with gas and a car to go home in every day –– surely they can come here at 6 o’clock on Monday.”

Schneider said she’d love to get monthly reports but doesn’t want the fire and police chiefs to come to the meeting in person.

“Let’s not micromanage. We’re not here to micromanage. We’re here to help run the city,” Schneider said, “and we really don’t need to be doing their job. Just let them do their job.”

“Part of their job is reporting to council,” Meyer said.

“We don’t need them coming to the meeting and going through every line item,” Schneider said. “We don’t need it. That’s micromanagement. We need to stay clear of that.”

Meyer moved to require all department heads to come monthly to deliver a report and his motion died for lack of a second.

“I have to agree with Ms. Schneider on micromanaging,” Berry said. “That’s administration, not legislation.”

Meyer said the council didn’t get any monthly reports for police and fire last year.

“We got all our reports at the end of the year,” Meyer said.

“I apologize for not getting that to you,” Berry said, “but I’m not comfortable having them come up here so you can dissect their reports.”

“I’m not talking about dissecting,” Meyer said.

“Your motion failed for lack of a second,” Berry said.

“Thanks for the lecture,” Meyer said.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, March 23, at the Auditorium.

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