A resolution authorizing Mayor Shirley Washington to negotiate an agreement with the Urban Renewal Agency in an effort to remove blight was recommended for approval by the City Council’s Development and Planning Committee Tuesday.
Joni Alexander, who chairs the committee called the special meeting after the city obtained an opinion from Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge which allows such an action.
In addition to Alexander, Council Members Glen Brown Jr. and Win Trafford, the other members of the committee, as well as Council Members Ivan Whitfield, Bruce Lockett and Donald Hatchett attended the meeting with Trafford offering the do pass recommendation and Brown providing a second.
Regarding the AG’s opinion, Maurice Taggart, the director of Urban Renewal said Rutledge was asked specifically if Urban Renewal could tear down a structure which has been condemned by the city without first acquiring the structure, as a previous opinion which said the agency must first acquire the property.
The latest opinion, dated Nov. 25, says that under state law, an urban renewal agency has the authority to “make plans for the enforcement of laws, codes and regulations relating to the use of land and the use and occupancy of buildings and improvements, and to the compulsory repair, rehabilitation, demolition or removing of buildings and improvements.”
He went on to say that in the Rutledge opinion, she said that under state statutes governing urban renewal, “The agency plainly allowed some role or capacity in the city’s enforcement efforts.”
“Thus, I believe an urban renewal agency might act in concert with the city, perhaps through some type of cooperative agreement,” Rutledge said in the opinion.
Asked by Alexander what the role of Code Enforcement would be if an agreement were reached with Urban Renewal, Taggart said Code Enforcement would continue to work outside the Urban Renewal area, identifying structures that need to be added to the condemnation list for demolition, and in the short term, also work to identify structures in the urban renewal area until the agency can train their own inspector.
Specifically, the resolution to be considered by the council says “It is desired that the city’s Code of Enforcement Department make use of the resources available to the Urban Renewal Agency to assist the department by freeing its resources to address properties outside the Urban Renewal area, while nuisances within the Urban Renewal area may be remediated by the Urban Renewal Agency in compliance with the rules and regulations of the Code Enforcement Department governing the work.”
Lockett said that under the law, only a city can inspect or raze property and allowing an outside agency to make that kind of decision would be like “a government within a government. I don’t have a problem if code enforcement inspects a property and refers it to the council and Urban Renewal removes it.”
“The powers bestowed to a city allows it to enter into an agreement with any other public body to act pursuant to the law,” Taggart said.
Whitfield said there are so many things to work out, why act on an agreement now until all the research is done.
Mayor Shirley Washington agreed that here are things to work out but said that was the reason for the resolution, to start the process and said any agreement reached would be voted on by the full council before it went into effect.
Jimmy Dill, who is a member of the Urban Renewal Board said that his agency does not condemn structures, preferring to see them rehabilitated but any structures urban renewal has torn down “deserved to be torn down.”
“We do not make the decision to if it’s to be torn down,” Dill said. “That’s your job.”
Although not a member of the committee, Hatchett said he supported the resolution saying that the city should take advantage of any agency that will help to remove blight in the city.