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P&Z Commission hopes to get back to business

Posted on January 17, 2019

Members to ask council, mayor to approve new appointment

By Tia Lyons
Staff Writer

After several months, the El Dorado Planning and Zoning Commission could soon be back to full capacity — a favorable condition that would allow the seven-member body able to handle its business, old and new, with all hands on deck.

On Tuesday, commissioners agreed to ask the El Dorado City Council and Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer to appoint Erin Malone to fill a longstanding vacancy.

The commission discussed the matter when it last met in October. At the time, three candidates had submitted applications and commissioners expressed concern then that one of the candidates worked at Murphy USA.

Kelly Halstead, chairman of the planning and zoning commission, said then that two MUSA employees already serve on the commission — herself and Commissioner Gaven Ballinger.

“If an issue from Murphy USA comes before the board, three of us would abstain,” Halstead said last October.

The two other candidates were local real estate agents and commissioners pointed out that two real estate agents also serve on the board already — commissioners Janice Long and Netasha Williamson.

No additional applications had been submitted by the time the commission reconvened Tuesday.

“These are the same applications from last time,” Halstead said shortly after the meeting began.

One applicant, local real estate agent Jason Reed, was disqualified. Commissioner Scott Ellen noted that Reed lives just outside city limits. Members of the EPZC must reside within city limits, per city ordinance.

Commissioners reviewed applications from Malone, a local real estate agent who holds a master’s degree in business administration, and John R. Morgan, a tax accountant at MUSA.

After a brief discussion, commissioners approved Malone’s application, which will be forwarded to Smith-Creer and the City Council for consideration.

Old business

Halstead said commissioners may now move forward with old business, including an ongoing effort to clarify a city ordinance that restricts parking on front lawns on certain streets in El Dorado.

Former Mayor Frank Hash had asked commissioners to work with council members on the matter, which centers on city Ordinance 1773.

The ordinance prohibits the parking or storing of vehicles “on the grass in a yard between the residence and the street right of way” in designated areas on a prescribed list of main arterial and collector streets throughout the city.

Further, the ordinance states that vehicles, boats, boat trailers and camper shells are also prohibited “in the front yard of a lot, whether improved or unimproved, including the lawn area thereof, in residential areas on certain main artery streets, except upon that improved area which shall comprise the driveways.”

At issue is a clause that prohibits the paving or graveling of a yard “to the extent that such paving or graveling violates the (city’s) zoning ordinance.”

The matter is not addressed in the city’s zoning code.

Following a lengthy discussion during the commission’s October meeting, Halstead and Ballenger said they would review zoning ordinances from other cities and tailor a proposed amendment to fit El Dorado.

Attempts to convene the EPZC and City Council members have also been unsuccessful.

“We’ll get with the new mayor and the City Council to see if we can put our heads together and come up with a solution,” Halstead said.

New City Council Member Paul Choate was in the audience Tuesday and nodded his head in agreement.

City Clerk Heather McVay reminded commissioners about another bit of old business — a pending effort to develop a comprehensive sign ordinance and to set commercial design standards for the city.

McVay said the matter was to have been forwarded to City Attorney Henry Kinslow, but it has not been addressed since former EPZC chairman Michael Rogers stepped down in 2017.

Like Ordinance 1773, the city’s existing sign ordinance is separate from the zoning code.

During Rogers’s tenure on the EPZC, the commission spent more than a year trying to align the sign ordinance with the zoning code and develop drafts for new sign regulations and commercial design standards.

The final draft proposal for design standards applies to all commercial districts within the city, except the Central Business District in Downtown El Dorado, whose design standards are overseen by the El Dorado Historic District Commission.

The proposal also spells out procedures for obtaining city permits for commercial buildings; the process by which the planning and zoning commission reviews building permits for non-standard commercial buildings; and the appeal process for a decision made by the commission.

New business

For new business, Halstead said the commission may have to consider two rezoning requests, one if which involves property on West Hillsboro near Hollywood Avenue.

The other is for a residential space on Murphy Avenue near Mount Holly that has been donated to a local, faith-based program who wants to move its offices to the house.

Ellen and Halstead said there have been no objections to the Murphy Avenue project from surrounding property owners.

Halstead said the issues may be discussed when the commission meets again at noon Feb. 11 in the Council Chamber of City Hall.

In other business, Ellen inquired about issues regarding temporary signs blocking visibility and restrictive neighborhood covenants that have expired.

Hasltead said if the sign issue is in violation of city ordinances, the matter could be reported to the city code enforcement office.

Regarding restrictive covenants, Ellen said that his property appraisal business has been “getting hammered by the banks” about expired covenants.

Halstead said, “I don’t think the government should get involved in marketing issues. Whoever is responsible for the covenant is responsible for that. That is a private agreement.”

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or