A Pine Bluff alderman’s proposal for a new bed and breakfast near the defunct Eden Park Country Club is drawing opposition from nearby residents, including Mayor Shirley Washington’s top assistant.
Alderman Win Trafford and business partner Tom Reilley are asking the city to rezone the property of a historic home at the intersection of Cherry Street and 40th Avenue. Reilley is the chairman of Highland Pellets and a board member of the Pine Bluff Rising non-profit. Known as the Greystone residence, the home is located in a neighborhood zoned R-1, for residential purposes. Trafford, a realtor who owns many local properties, is asking the city to change the zoning of the property to R-B, Residential – Commercial in order to operate it as a business.
Reilley mentioned the potential bed and breakfast in January at a community meeting of Pine Bluff Rising. He said then that Kaki Hockersmith, a Little Rock interior designer who decorated the White House during the Clinton presidency, had been contracted to decorate the interior of the Greystone residence in an effort to provide an upscale place for visitors to stay.
The Pine Bluff Planning and Development Commission on June 27 approved the re-zoning request by a 5-1 vote, with two commissioners absent and one abstaining. At a meeting Tuesday of the City Council’s Development and Planning Committee, assistant to the mayor Keidra Burrell repeated her opposition to the project, which she originally expressed at the June 27 meeting.
Burrell, who said her home borders the Greystone property, said she was concerned about consistently applying zoning decisions, about a potential negative impact on surrounding home values and about “spot zoning,” or “the unjustified special treatment that benefits a particular owner.”
Burrell noted that in 2014 the planning commission unanimously rejected a request by Pamela Thomas of Pine Bluff to re-open a restaurant, event center and swimming pool at Eden Park, a former country club bordering the Greystone property that closed in the early 2010s.
Local residents opposed Thomas’ request, arguing that the area is largely quiet and residential, and that the streets could not sustain the traffic attracted by a business. Thomas is African-American, and Trafford is white.
Burrell said that other residents have spoken to her because they are concerned about what activity the bed and breakfast could bring. She said there is “no solid plan” to deal with such activity.
“[Thomas] didn’t have a plan [and] didn’t have financing,” Burrell said. “She was crucified. I feel like, first of all, there needs to be continuity in treatment. Miss Thomas, they asked her about her budget, about finance, about all these things. I know Mr. Trafford personally, and I don’t have questions about finance, but I feel it should be consistent.”
Burrell added that it would not be beneficial to introduce a commercial use to the area. She said it would do nothing to increase home values, and that people do not want to “live next to a hotel.” She also objected to what she called spot zoning, or unjustified special treatment that benefits a particular owner. She said she did not like the idea of events being hosted at the residence, and added that the neighborhood doesn’t need help because it is thriving and people are buying property there.
Larry Reynolds, director of the Southeast Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, said the proposed bed and breakfast would have a “totally different intensity of use” from the old Eden Park proposal. He said there was no evidence for Burrell’s claim that property values would decrease.
“If you go to cities that have had bed and breakfasts, the areas around bed and breakfasts usually improve,” Reynolds said. “The area around Miss [Wanda] Bateman’s [bed and breakfast on Barraque Street] improved.”
One problem is the current entrance and exit from the property, Reynolds said, which is dangerous to navigate on the busy Cherry Street. Trafford has promised to move the entrance and widen it to make it safer.
The Development and Planning Committee, comprised of Alderwoman Thelma Walker, Alderman Bill Brumett and Chairman Glen Brown Jr, voted to forward the proposed zoning change to the full City Council with no recommendation. Brummet supported the proposal, Walker opposed it and Brown abstained from voting on a recommendation.