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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, is shown in this file photo.

A fight over local governments setting home design standards in burgeoning Northwest Arkansas entered the state Capitol on Tuesday.

Legislation put forward by state Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, seeks to curtail the ability of cities and counties to regulate elements of "building design" -- defined as everything from the color of a home and the pitch of the roof to the style of windows -- which Hester said is driving up home prices in Northwest Arkansas.

Hester, who is by trade a real estate developer, said his legislation, Senate Bill 170, stems from proposed rules that began to appear last fall in Springdale and Fayetteville, the region's two largest cities.

In October, a draft of new standards that would have banned vinyl siding on single-family homes drew a packed house to a meeting of the Springdale Planning Commission, which ultimately ditched the rule, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. That same month, planners in Fayetteville tabled discussion on a proposed rule to limit the size of garages in certain areas.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

"Things that should be left up to a homeowner based on what they can afford," Hester said of such proposals.

The median price of a home in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metro area was $179,900 in December, according to Zillow, an online real-estate database. Home prices in the region increased 9.8 percent over the past year, according to Zillow, which predicted prices will increase another 12.8 percent in 2019, three times as fast as Arkansas as a whole.

While Hester said he was not involved in any current projects in those two cities, he was accompanied to a preliminary legislative committee hearing Tuesday by Josh Carson, an attorney for Rausch Coleman Homes, a home-building company based in Fayetteville.

The hearing did not end in a vote on the legislation. The committee considering SB170, the Senate Committee on City, County and Local Affairs, will meet again Thursday for additional public comment and a possible vote.

Pressed by some members of the Senate committee, Hester said his bill was intended to cover ornamental and design aspects of homes, not their fitness for living.

The bill would prohibit cities and counties from regulating "residential building design elements" defined as exterior building color; type or style of exterior cladding material; style or materials of roof structures and roof pitches; exterior nonstructural architectural ornamentation; location, design, placement, or architectural styling of windows and doors, including garage doors and garage structures; the number and types of rooms; the interior layout of rooms; and the minimum square footage of a structure.

The language of SB170 includes an exemption for regulations related to "applicable safety codes."

The bill also includes exemptions for regulations related to manufactured homes, buildings in historic districts and in central business improvement districts.

Hester found an ally in Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff.

"I'm really impressed by your advocacy for poor and low-income [people] and housing for those individuals," Flowers said. "I admire you for running the bill. It makes sense."

Flowers, while expressing her overall accord with the bill's intents, said that an exemption for cheaper manufactured homes, such as mobile homes and trailers, could deny relief to lower income home owners. She also expressed concern about the exceptions for renewal districts, citing such efforts in downtown Pine Bluff.

Democratic Sen. Keith Ingram, a former mayor of West Memphis, said he had broader reservations.

"Fundamentally, what this is about is taking home rule away from city government," Ingram said.

The bill is likely to draw opposition from the Arkansas Municipal League, Hester said.

However, that organization's director, Mark Hayes, said the league's leadership was still reviewing the bill.

Hayes said in an interview that restrictive building codes were more likely to be found in private housing developments, which would not be affected by SB170's restrictions on municipalities and counties.

"I'm not sure how that translates to us," he said.

Hester contended that the bill would merely codify into state law the protections that already exist in the federal Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968.

Hayes, however, said Hester's legislation appeared to be broader.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin.

Hester said that the enforcement of more building codes would have the effect of driving lower- and middle-income families from the state.

A 2018 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found 49 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 "extremely low income" renter households in Arkansas. That report found that no state has an adequate supply of low-income rental housing, though shortages were generally worse in the Northeast and West Coast than in the South.

While Hester's bill would mostly apply to new home building, the state standards regarding the existing housing stock -- specifically units that are leased to renters -- have drawn concern from some lawmakers and renters' advocates in recent years. Arkansas is the only state in the country that does not set minimum standards of habitability for landlords, despite six different attempts to enact such standards since 2005.

Tuesday, state Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, said he plans on taking up the latest effort this session to set standards for rental property.

"I think the idea is we should have certain minimum standards of decency in dwellings," Gazaway said. Those standards would likely include working plumbing, roofs without leaks, and working air conditioning and heating, he said.

Information for this article was contributed by Ginny Monk of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Stacy Ryburn and Laurinda Joenks of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Section on 01/30/2019

Print Headline: Arkansas Senate bill targets home-design rules


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  • RBear
    January 30, 2019 at 4:51 a.m.

    "Fundamentally, what this is about is taking home rule away from city government." This is what I fear when then state legislator gets to meddling in local affairs which it has done on numerous occasions. Based on the article, both issues resolved themselves at the local level through public input. Why would Hester want to create state overreach when I'm sure he's against federal overreach. His comment about the language of the FHA showed the deception he's trying to pull on this legislation.
    I really would like our state legislators to look LONG AND HARD at any legislation that usurps local control. If FHA didn't do it, why should the state pull this move?

  • LR1955
    January 30, 2019 at 6:59 a.m.

    It one thing for a developing neighborhood to have design standards. Another for a city to spread those standards throughout the city. The new homes in LR & elsewhere in AR are very expensive and they all look the same. Boring!
    I’d hate to think I couldn’t build a midcentury home because the roof was pitched enough enough.

  • LR1955
    January 30, 2019 at 7:04 a.m.

    ^^mid-century modern^^ & ^^wasn’t pitched enough^^

  • RBear
    January 30, 2019 at 7:15 a.m.

    Taking your example a step further, what Hester is proposing is to spread those design standards statewide. Now, I do support Rep. Gazaway's bill to promote habitability for renters. "Arkansas is the only state in the country that does not set minimum standards of habitability for landlords, despite six different attempts to enact such standards since 2005." I've talked to several young renters who have been dealing with problems in apartments that should have been fixed by landlords. These are basic issues such as weatherproofing which leads to higher utility bills for the renters and leaky pipes.

  • LR1955
    January 30, 2019 at 7:29 a.m.

    The Article & bill are about new homes. I don’t read it’s about the State taking over home design, it’s about keeping the city from disallowing new neighborhoods of vinyl sided homes with lower rooflines, etc.

    Renters is kinda off-topic.

  • RBear
    January 30, 2019 at 7:38 a.m.

    Renters was mentioned in the later part of the article which is legislation our state REALLY needs now, more so than this. Of course, the apartment lobby will fight Gazaway's bill if it gets filed. But I'm going to contact him and spread the news of his bill throughout my millennial friends to rally behind it.

  • Knuckleball1
    January 30, 2019 at 8:47 a.m.

    Well, I thought the Republican Party was about local government having the control over their area, and low and behold Bart Hester is wanting to take that control away.

    You see it all the time in the news where a Home owners or Property Owners Association is suing a home owner for violating the rules. If you didn't read the rules before moving into the neighborhood, shame on you when you get sued for not following the rules and regulations, you should have bought somewhere else.

    On another note, watch for a Bill to do away with Builders, Plumbers, HVAC & Electricians from having to have a State License to work in the State. Richard Womack, Jeff Wardlaw in the House and Bart Hester in the Senate have proposed in the past to do away with licenses in Arkansas.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    January 30, 2019 at 12:38 p.m.

    Arkansans who vote for local republicans are too old or too stupid to see the truth.

  • turnerje99
    January 30, 2019 at 1:16 p.m.

    This needs to remain a locally controlled issue. The people of the cities and towns of Arkansas need to be able to determine the housing standards in their cities. Apparently it's working since the article indicated that two northwest Arkansas cities had taken care of it on a local basis.

  • mrcharles
    January 30, 2019 at 2:18 p.m.

    NW arkansas seems to be in the news lately, a lot more with crazy stuff. Perhaps utopia does not live there.

    Guess local control means the citizens can vote on the rules, and if there is a winning position, people can use free will to choose to live and/or build there. Just seems strange that there are those who want local control, but of course there own thoughts and versions of local control... kinda like the discrimination issues with some cities that didnt go along with the ancient goat herders society who evolved into making a big deal out of human sacrifice leaders in our gop state legislature, who being the hypocrites they are do at every step try to force all to live as deity system ILKS.

    How about different sections in each city? There people can do their own thing according to a set of rules set for that section. If they dont like it , they can pick another section, or move to a city who doesnt have rules or move out to the country . Some may want to live in pink houses next to the interstate.

    Also if hester is involved, I am reminded of the issue with hog farms.