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Monday's Letter to the editor

OPINION April 5, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

Fight 'commercial encroachment'

Dear editor:

At its next meeting, the Hot Springs Board of Directors will consider whether to approve a "development" consisting of multiple short-term rentals (with 12 "homes" and six "cabins") in the Five Points area. The proposed development raises two issues: (1) the proliferation of short-term rentals and (2) commercial encroachment into residential neighborhoods.

Much attention has been directed to the issue of short-term rentals. In my own neighborhood, the Whittington Valley, we have several short-term rentals, owned by local residents (in one instance, the owner lives next door to the rental), and because the owners care about our neighborhood and their property, there have been no problems.

However, the situation could change radically if a developer were to come into the Valley with plans to construct a "development" consisting of short-term rentals with 40-plus bedrooms (as has been proposed in the Five Points area). Such a "development" would not be "residential" -- it would be a commercial enterprise akin to a hotel. And common sense says it should be treated as such.

The concept underlying zoning is simple: "Put like with like." Place homes with homes, businesses with businesses. The homeowners in the Five Points area recognize that too many short-term rentals will irreparably change the character of their residential neighborhood (a self-evident point if there ever was one). If the project were treated as it should be, namely as a hotel, it could never happen. The city's zoning code prohibits hotels in residential areas. However, the project is classified as a "Planned Development" -- which gives nearby homeowners no protections under the zoning code.

The Five Points area was recently annexed into the city and is currently zoned R-L (Lakes Area Residential). By definition, "This district is established to preserve more leisure ["leisure" in the sense of "slower-paced"] type living associated with the residential area in proximity to the lakes to afford protection from intrusive commercial and industrial activities [emphasis added]." When advocating for the involuntary annexation, city officials touted protections for homeowners written into the city's zoning code, including prohibitions against commercial activities in residential zones. But apparently with clever phrasing, such "protections" disappear. This is an important lesson for every Hot Springs homeowner.

The residents in the Five Points area are fighting against "commercial encroachment" -- the operation of a commercial enterprise in their residential neighborhood. The city board of directors recently voted to uphold the idea of protecting a residential neighborhood from commercial encroachment. The owner of a site along Malvern Avenue wanted the lot rezoned for a new bank. East Gate residents spoke out in opposition and the city board, wisely, denied the request. The board understood all-too-well the "put like with like" concept underpinning the zoning code -- especially the idea that homeowners prize the "quiet enjoyment" of their residences and want to be away from the traffic, noise, pollution and the general activity of commerce.

One hopes the city board will again show wisdom and grant the residents of the Five Points area the same protections the board provided to East Gate homeowners.

Mark A. Toth

Hot Springs

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